The Irish Independent recently covered Munster’s attempts to secure a naming rights deal for Thomond Park. As the article suggests, increasing revenues through selling the naming rights of stadiums can cause anger for some fans. Naming rights can be particularly controversial when a sports club has a long history. The decision to sell off the name of a stadium is commonly seen a clash between commercial and social/historical aspects of a sports club. The exemplar of this is the story of Newcastle United and St.James Park. After much protestation when St James Park was renamed the Sports Direct Arena, payday loan company Wonga.com became Newcastle United's main commercial sponsor, purchasing the stadium naming rights in October 2012. It was announced that the stadium name would be restored to St.James Park as part of the Wonga agreement.
Selling the naming right to a stadium is a relatively new revenue stream for sporting organisations in the British Isles. There is approximately 51 sports stadiums in the England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales that have sold naming rights. The majority (38) are in England, ranging from very small sporting organisations (Weston Homes Community Stadium – Colchester) to elite Premier League clubs (The Emirates Stadium – Arsenal). The graph below shows the increasing number of clubs to adopt this strategy, displaying the year naming were initially sold for 46 stadiums I could access data for. The data covers a variety of sports stadia including football, rugby league, cricket and multipurpose arenas.
The construction sector is the industry with access to the most naming rights. This makes sense, as construction firms (such as Alfred McAlpine in Huddersfield) often take naming rights as part payment for building a new stadium or redeveloping an existing one. The media and communications industry has the second biggest share of naming rights and the automotive industry is third.
While the motivations for seeking naming rights may differ according to a sporting organisations size, the economic evidence suggests that naming rights fail to have a lasting impact on the profitability of the companies that buy them.
Also, why fans may not want to worry too much is that some new names fail to ‘stick’ when a stadium is redeveloped, especially when buying firms have short-term naming rights. While many naming sales do a reasonable job in rebranding a stadium (the Aviva Stadium for example), others names are more difficult to supplant. To date I haven’t heard anyone refer to Musgrave Park in Cork as ‘Irish Independent Park’ and the 'Bet365 stadium' just doesn’t have the same ring to it as the Brittania!