What’s in a name?

With lots of rumour and speculation circulating over a potential new stadium to replace the Grand Old Lady, inevitably the subject of naming rights will come into consideration and discussion within the fan base.

At present, the two potential relocation destinations are allegedly somewhere on the Mersey riverfront or the Stonebridge Cross area relatively adjacent to the M57/A580 East Lancs Road. Common sense would suggest that a city-centre, riverfront stadium would likely attract much more interest for commercial naming rights partners than a further out-of-town venture, purely from a visibility profile if nothing else.

There are lots of figures bandied around for how much value/income could be gained from ‘selling’ the naming rights to new stadium, but there are other considerations as well in terms of timescales, and branding even down to colours. It might seem a tad parochial, but would any Evertonian really want a new stadium emblazoned with a company name and logo in red, or a company that doesn’t enjoy a positive media profile?

Stadium naming first (inevitably) occurred in the US where multi-year, multi-million dollar deals are now common place for both outdoor and indoor facilities. Take for example the Staples Centre in Los Angeles where the Lakers play basketball and the Kings play ice hockey. Staples bought the naming rights back in 1999 for $120 million over a twenty year period, $6 million a year. The Chicago White Sox sold the naming rights to Comiskey Park in 2003 to US Cellular for £68 million, again for a twenty-year period, or £3.4 million per annum.

Naming rights are sometimes sold to assist with the initial construction costs as was the case at the turn of this century when the Milwaukee Brewers needed $400 million for their new home and sold the rights to the Miller Brewing Company for $40 million until 2020, circa $2.5 million a year.

Some sports organisations without the need to relocate have resisted the temptation of selling naming rights in favour of history and traditional, notably the Boston Red Sox who play at Fenway Park and the Chicago Cubs whose home has been Wrigley Field since 1927.

To this end, could anybody ever imagine Goodison, Anfield, Old Trafford or any of our current other historical football stadia being renamed? Highly unlikely, and so it’s when clubs relocate as in the case of Arsenal from Highbury to the Emirates, Bolton from Burnden Park to the Reebok, now Macron and Manchester City from Maine Road to the Etihad to name just three that naming rights and the potential revenue really come to the fore.

And choosing the right potential partners is essential as you never know what’s around the corner as was the case when the Houston Astros entered into a 30-year £100 million naming rights deal with Enron in 1999 only for the energy company to go bankrupt in a 2001 financial scandal. The club suffered massively bad PR before rescuing their income with a 2002 deal with Coca-Cola subsidiary Minute Maid for similar figures.

Whilst some of the headline numbers in the US appear to be and indeed are gargantuan amounts, the length of the contract has to be considered and factored in. Anyone thinking that £10 million a year deal for a new Everton stadium project is possible and ‘a gimme’ needs to calm down, as a deal purely for stadium naming rights of that magnitude is highly unlikely.

Earlier I mentioned colour and the – to my mind – unlikely chance of a new Everton stadium being emblazoned in red. One starting point for the club might be to begin with globally large companies with blue logos? Google companies with blue logos and the likes of Volkswagen, Gazprom, Intel, Facebook, PayPal, DELL, Ford and American Express leap out of the computer screen.

Could Everton enter negotiations with and be able to convince a global partner of their magnitudes to join with the club in helping finance a new stadium and/or entering into a multi-year, multi-million pound shirt and stadium naming rights deal?

Building a brand and continually enhancing it is the primary role of marketeers across the globe and for commercial companies, a liaison with a major (and successful) sports club can be hugely beneficial. TV, radio and media exposure from every game, additional air time and column inches with every piece of breaking club news all help the commercial partnership blossom, but remember the Enron scenario for the Astros, bad news can quickly reverse fortunes too.

It’s important too that the club seek a multi-faceted deal and ideally with a trusted, respected ‘household’ name. As well as naming rights for a stadium and the teams’ shirts, events too such as a pre-season tournament can be named, offering further exposure to both parties.

Where naming rights values are concerned, the UK currently is second – albeit massively behind the US – with Germany third in the ratings of stadia naming rights. Significantly maybe, Germany currently has more named stadia than the UK, but at lower average values. It is also worthy to note that with the possible exception of Japan, the more valuable deals are generally five years at least and often longer, so the need to find the right partner for the club would be paramount.

It is to be hoped that along with seeking the right location, the club and it’s new leadership will leave no stone unturned in seeking the best possible naming rights and shirt sponsorship deals to mutually benefit the club and the chosen partners for however long a deal can be successfully negotiated and struck.

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