Newcastle United Change Stadium Name to Attract Sponsors

November 10, 2011

English Premier League team Newcastle United have controversially changed their stadium name to Sports Direct Arena with immediate effect, in a bid to attract a long term naming rights sponsor

The club have been looking for a sponsor for St James’ Park since October 2009, and shortly afterwards renamed it the “ @ St James’ Park Stadium”. Though it was branded as this within the ground the name was never widely used or accepted – but now they have gone a step further.

Newcastle have looked to the sale of naming rights for Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium and Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium in defence of their plan, but they are both either relatively new or brand new stadia with no historical or traditional weight behind them. Clubs like Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have not sold naming rights for Anfield, Old Trafford or White Hart Lane.

A statement from the club read: “Newcastle United have today announced plans to license the full naming rights to the club’s stadium following consultation with international branding experts. The board are committed to generating additional commercial revenue from advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

“The original naming rights proposal, launched in November 2009, invited sponsors to link their brand to St. James’ Park, but this did not prove commercially attractive. As such, the club will now seek a sponsor who will be granted full naming rights. Until such time the stadium will be renamed the Sports Direct Arena.”

The move is sure to be met with opposition from the Newcastle supporters and will be seen as a considerable own goal by the Ashley camp just as they were receiving support locally with the club riding high.

Michael Cunnah, iSportconnect’s Advisory Board member, believes any potential sponsorships has some risks. “If there is reluctance by sponsors to put their name on a stadium that has had a name for over 100 years will anyone use the new name or worse will the new name antagonise fans and become a real own goal for the sponsor,” he said.

“Newcastle seem to be renaming the stadium now so that, should they move to a new name, the new sponsor’s name will be replacing a name which has been in place in a blink of an eye. Is everyone that naive?” he added.

Newcastle may be taking this approach now due to financial difficulties and the increasing popularity of the club which may attract investors after their their unbeaten start to the Premier League season.

Newcastle Managing Director Derek Llambias said: “To grow sustainably and allow us to invest in our future, we will need to rely increasingly heavily on commercial income. These are very difficult economic times and the board have a responsibility to maximise all revenue streams for the benefit of the club.

“Stadium rebranding offers a lucrative way for clubs to secure significant additional income. When we initially launched our plans at the end of 2009, we invited sponsors to attach their brand to that of St James’ Park.

“However, it has become clear that in order to make the proposition as commercially attractive as possible, a potential sponsor must be given the opportunity to fully rebrand the stadium.

“Naming the stadium the Sports Direct Arena helps up to showcase the opportunity to interested parties. We are now actively seeking a long-term sponsor wishing to acquire full naming rights for the stadium.

“Our shirt sponsorship deal with Northern Rock will also expire at the end of this season, which presents would-be sponsors with the opportunity to acquire both the naming rights and shirt sponsorship deals.”

However Cunnah and former director of marketing at Manchester United and current iSportconnect advisory board member Steven Falk believe trying to sell naming rights to St James Park will be difficult with the stadiums heritage.

Cunnah said: “It seems as though the names of new stadiums such as the Reebok and the Emirates seem to work as it is the only name that the stadium has ever been known by whereas older, more famous stadiums such as St.James’ Park are less easily renamed.”

Falk added: “If the objective is to associate a brand within the very fabric of a club as typified by the stadium, then consistent use of the new title by the key stakeholders (i.e. fans, officials, players, media, regulatory authorities etc.) is required.

“For this reason, the effectiveness of a stadium naming rights strategy is likely to be greatest when applied to a new (or relatively new) development such as the Emirates, The Etihad and the O2.

“Attempting to change the behaviour of anyone associated with football is notoriously difficult to achieve, unless the decision and motives of the change is universally accepted. For example, MU’s decision to rename the North Stand in honour of the manager’s achievements was achieved without any of the rancour normally associated with club-imposed decisions. This is because the motivation for the change is clearly an emotional rather than a commercial one.

“Given the long-term nature of a stadium naming rights deal, it is important to achieve the right balance between brand values, commercial benefit and stakeholder acceptability. Only then will the true advantage of such a deal materialise.”

Click on iSportconnects discussion St James’ Park or Sports Direct Arena? to speak with Michael Cunnah and Steven Falk directly.