Too Much Importance Is Placed On Stadium Naming Rights in the Premier League

Corporations are taking over soccer, right? If you believe this, then the renaming of St. James’ Park is surely incontrovertible evidence on your behalf. Kristan Heneage already wrote about this, saying that the name is irrelevant since the ground will always be St. James’ Park even if the sign outside says otherwise.

In the United States, the stadium boom of the last three decades has resulted in virtually every stadium being replaced, so nobody makes much of a fuss about stadium renaming. It’s generally acknowledged new structures auction off their naming rights, but the few older ones remaining ought not to be for sale (Fenway Park and Lambeau Field for instance). But even if Fenway Park became Hancock Field, it will always be called Fenway. Corporations can pay all the money in the world for new signs and lettering, but they cannot mandate what a stadium is actually called in the bars.

In fact, the outrage over the St. James’ Park renaming seems arbitrary. I understand the stadium has been in existence for a century and the perceived corporate takeover of top-flight football seems unstoppable if the historical St. James Park cannot be salvaged. But decades ago, European fans accepted sponsorships on their uniforms, something Americans still largely reject. The names of English soccer leagues begin with companies; it’s not “The Premier League, brought to you by Barclays Bank”, it’s “Barclays Premier League” and “Npower Championship League”.

If sponsorships are so rampant in English football —truly, in all sports everywhere— then why is St. James’ Park the line in the sand for some? As The Gaffer commented on Kristan’s article, “for a club to rename their ground in favor of stadium rights to a current ground is an injustice in my opinion.” Yes the grounds are old and there is an aspect of tradition in concern. But if the underlying issue is inflicting an impurity on the game, then surely having a corporate logo on the very uniforms the players wear would be the ultimate impurity. After all, the words “Fly Emirates” are front and center and the Arsenal patch occupies but a tiny piece of jersey space. Who are the players actually playing for?

If you think that’s a foolish question, that’s because it is. In the modern sporting world, players do not play for Love of Club, and to think otherwise is to be shrouded in a fog of disillusionment. But, it’s also true the quality of the game and passion of the players has, if anything, increased since sponsorships became involved. Shockingly enough, professional footballers are by and large competitive creatures — a Carlos Tevez incident or two aside — and a large contract is more enticing than an abstract association with a sporting club. (To test this hypothesis, do you think international friendlies offer superior quality than club matches?)

The same debate is coming to fold in the United States about college athletics, where players are poorly compensated—relative to the profits universities make off their skills—under the guise of being “student-athletes”. This is nonsense. But it further reveals the myth of athletic purity, that somehow games competed under the notion of pride are superior to games backed by billions of dollars or pounds.

Once you can shed the myth of athletic purity, any outrage you may experience over Sporting Direct Arena will be revealed as inconsequential. Call the grounds whatever you desire, stare directly into the large Northern Rock lettering in the middle of the striped kit—with a Puma logo equal in size to the Newcastle patch in the corners—and realize this whole corporate takeover of sports is only important if you want to make it so. Otherwise, let the games commence.

13 thoughts on “Too Much Importance Is Placed On Stadium Naming Rights in the Premier League”

  1. 1) For fans of teams with “classically” named stadia (St. James, Old Trafford, WHL, etc.) – if you had to choose between tradition of the pitch (i.e. the name) and glory on the pitch (assuming more $ means better play), which would you choose?

    2) Aaron – thank you for a tight, coherent and readable article.

    1. As an Everton fan, at this point I don’t care what they do as long as they get some money in there.. It’d still be Goodison to all of us though.

  2. As an Arsenal fan, I kind of resent the fact that our ground is called Emirates Stadium. I wonder if people will still call it the Emirates when a new sponsor takes over, which won’t be for quite a while. As far as the sponsor logos on the shirts, I don’t really even notice them too much, especially with most clubs that change them every couple of seasons.

    If you think about it, the college athletes are already getting paid. They are getting a free education, with free room and board. Average tuition is the U.S. is around $25,000 I think, so that is plenty. The schools are making a lot of money off them, but it is not time to pay them.

    The American sports leagues should just let the players go from high school to the professional leagues. That way, the players who are good enough can get paid if they want.

  3. As a City fan I’m a bit shocked at how Newcastle’s reaction to the renaming. In 2004 we left Maine Road for the first time and the ground that I loved was destroyed. No renaming, just simply non-existence. Obviously it should be noted that Maine Road was in absolutely TERRIBLE condition and probably would have collapsed on its own. Unfortunately, there is no longer a Kippax, or even Platt Lane Stand. Speaking of Platt Lane, there was a bit of an uproar whenever it was temporarily renamed to the “Umbro” stand but in all honesty it was never called anything other than Platt Lane when we went. But let’s look at the other side, the newly renamed Etihad Stadium. It’s a spectacular facility! Perhaps the American in me can relate to it more than my English relatives but it has to be regarded as beautiful by anyone who has seen it. The stadium was certainly the nicest of all of the English stadiums I have been in, and in all honestly I think it still captures everything I love about this club just in a more modern way. Maine Road will ALWAYS be City’s home in my heart, but that doesn’t mean I can’t fall in love with the Etihad, especially if it is where I finally get to see City lift the Premier League trophy. Besides, without the move to the COMS then our buyout may have never happened and that may have been the greatest event in our history, other than our 5-1 win over United at Maine Road in September of 1989….unfortunately, a mere 9 days before I was born.

  4. The sports are different in bodily demands though, you can make the jump to the NBA but the NFL is a totally different story. Physical maturity to take the hits is just too much to overcome for most. Notice you never see “In the NFL out of high school” and “all time great” in the same line

    The tuition covers how much of the millions someone like Cam Newton made for Auburn? USC made untold hundreds of millions (TV, merchandise, naming, booster donations) on the corporation that was Reggie Bush/Leinart and the early 2000s team but Bush is the ass for getting a home rental paid. A great majority will never make it into the league, but they play in leagues where the SEC gets billions for their football, and the kids who fund the games with their bodies for that tuition. Its not just a lot of money, its astronomical.

    College football already feels like AAA baseball in a way. Its just the sham covering so people can feel good about being called “amateur”.

    1. If the players are paid, then what is the point of college sports? You could just have a youth league and the regular professional league. Why even have illusion of the school still remaining?

  5. Let’s look at the sponsors of Newcastle’s tops:

    Newcastle Brown Ale – Newcastle company
    Greenalls – Eventually owned by Scottish and Newcastle
    Newcastle Brown Ale – Newcastle Company
    NTL – Tried to buy the club
    Northern Rock – Newcastle Company

    I don’t mind sponsorship of our shirts because they have largely been a showcase for local businesses. The advertising around St James’ up until recently? Local butchers and newspapers. Northern rock sponsor the rugby and basketball teams in Newcastle, so when I stare into the Norther Rock logo, I see a local business.

    You use Man City as a modern example, but for the investment they have put in it would be hard to argue against it.

    St James’ is a line in the sand for me because it will generate no massive investment like Man City. If we don’t even reinvest the money from the sale of Carroll, what good will selling the naming rights to a pre existing institution do? Its just free advertising for Ashley, at no benefit to the club or the city.

    At least with Northern Rock, the money is circulated back into the local economy, whereas with Sports Direct, all profits go down South and out of the club.

  6. The issue with college sports is that some athletes are worth a lot more than their scholarships and some are worth a lot less; yet all are “compensated” the same. Hence, colleges cheat to Cam Newton, but not to get a 3rd string kicker or a women’s volleyball player._______________________ The St. James park renaming is sad. It adds to the soulessness of modern sports. But I’d rather have advertisements on uniforms, or even corporate stadium names, than commercials during the games (thus making the games 3 1/2 hours) like we have in American sports. What surprises me is that I would think the name promotes the team, which helps sells uniforms worldwide and keeps the brand strong. That’s why is would be unwise to sell names such as Old Trafford or Yankee Stadium. But then again business doesn’t always think long term if an extra buck can be made today…

  7. It will be continued to be called St. James Park, no matter the “proper” name.

    The only way that fans actually refer to the stadium by corporate name is if its a brand new stadium, and it has no historical name.

  8. I think an interesting comparison is to Pac Bell park in San Francisco. Pac Bell is a corporate name. However it has been renamed to several other things since but is still referred to by the original name by most people. Once a stadium has a name and it really gains traction that name will stick regardless of what corporation tries to take over the name rights. The consistency of place allows fans to talk about trips or games throughout time without worrying about the constantly changing of the current name of the stadium.

  9. I think to appreciate why the re-naming of a stadium causes so much furore you have to understand where how football is viewed in Europe, South America, and particularly in England. I don’t wish to talk down to fans who live overseas – hell, I’m one myself now – but there is a different level of passion with fans who live locally.

    Now many will say that in today’s global village, the majority of a team’s fans, certainly for the bigger clubs, are located abroad and frankly could care little for what they call the stadium is called, but if you’ve lived your whole life in say, Newcastle, and you go to every home game come hell or high water, then your team and your stadium become almost like a church. Football is a religion to many fans, especially in the North of England, so when some corporation comes along and removes the name of St James’s Park, it’s like a dagger to the heart.

    Myself personally, I think clubs should act in the best interests of thefans and the club as it holds a very important position in the community. If the club needs the cash to survive, then change it. If it’s just another revenue stream, maybe you want to think otherwise.

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