Traditional terrace tipplers still mouthing up their marmite at the news that Newcastle’s St. James’ Park will henceforth be known as sportsdirect.com@St. James’ Park Stadium will be further aghast to learn that Chelsea would consider cashing in on Stamford Bridge. We are not too far off from Ethan Armstrong’s vision here at EPL Talk of sponsored songs and players. While the idea of selling naming rights in England is not new, what with the Emirates Stadium, the KC Stadium, Reebok Stadium and the DW Stadium; the practice is not nearly as common as in the United States, what with Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Pizza Hut Park, the Home Depot Center and virtually every outdoor or indoor facility in the country.
Once commercialization trends start they tend to spread as swiftly as beans on toast. The FA first allowed shirt sponsors in 1977, by the Premier League’s debut in 1992, nearly every club had a shirt sponsor. The underlying beauty of a football kit has always been its simplicity. From a purely aesthetic view, sponsorships rob shirts of their visual appeal. The sight of Liverpool and Olympique Lyonnais playing this past Wednesday sans shirt sponsors was refreshingly glorious.
Some sponsorships are offensive, such as AIG with Manchester United and Northern Rock with Newcastle United, two firms that had to be bailed out big-time by taxpayers. West Ham United, with XL and Manchester City, with First Advice, are just two of several clubs that have suffered the indignity of their sponsors going belly-up. In the U.S., Citibank insulted the taxpayers who kept the bank afloat by splashing out $20 million a year to sponsor the new home of the New York Mets. These companies pay exorbitantly but the risk of a team performing poorly on the pitch and having the stadium become the butt of jokes remains. Can sportsdirect.com expect brisker business because of the sponsorship? Certainly not from irate Geordies.
What with the decreased presence of Englishmen in the Premier League, haphazard start times, subscription fees, Highburys and St. James’ Parks giving way to Insert-Your-Name-Here Stadiums and persistent talk of a 39th game abroad, fans have every right to question when they will see the benefits of increased commercialization.
Of course, nothing forces fans to call St. James’ Park by its new name. Mike Ashley may pocket more pounds, but supporters aren’t, so why should they comply? Fans of the New York Mets, led by blogs NoMas and Uniwatch, set a fine example by organizing behind the rallying cry “I’m Calling it Shea” when Shea Stadium was replaced by Citi Field. Taking the argument further, supporters should demand that clubs offer shirts without sponsors on them, similar to how children’s kits are sold without an alcoholic brand’s logo. We already pay a hefty premium for replicas that cost nothing to make. Why should we walk about providing free advertising for firms that grace the shirts of our favorite clubs when they haven’t paid us for the honor. Clubs could offer two versions, with the sponsor-free one selling for a higher price.