Football is a sport first but a business second and in any good business, money makes the difference between success and failure. In tough economic times, football clubs can no longer rely on revenues generated from player and ticket sales and are branching out to tap into new revenue streams. The creation of online sites dedicated to the clubs is nothing new, but more and more clubs are becoming savvy that it can be used not only as a marketing tool but as a revenue generator as well. Advertising, subscriptions to live streamed games and content all offer new money to the clubs but it’s not substantial enough to get the directors excited. For them the big bucks lie in advertising and branding each and every corner of the club, from the boards that surround the pitch to the players shirts and now to the stadium itself.
The growth of selling stadium naming rights stems from the realisation that brands will pay huge sums of money to be associated with a club, its fans and everything it stands for. To date global brands such as Emirates, Ethiad, Volkswagen, Phillips and Reebok have all taken up ownership of stadium names across a variety of football leagues. Joining them this week is Sports Direct, who have announced a deal with Glasgow Rangers to rename their famous Ibrox Stadium. As yet the new name has not been fully revealed but the fans are already up in arms about the change, similar to their counterparts at Newcastle who faced a similar situation. The two clubs are linked by Newcastle owner, Mike Ashley who also has a stake in Rangers and has been looking for ways to grow his company, Sports Direct in the Scottish market. After changing the name of his own club’s stadium from St James Park to the Sports Direct Arena, Ashley faced a backlash from the fans who fought hard against the change, so much so that it has now reverted back to its original state. After that episode, Ashley set his sights on Rangers and appears to have secured a deal (valued at less than $1million due to Rangers current league status) to rename Ibrox. The stadium, which has bared the name since 1899, will now undergo a change within the next few months, after Ashley and Rangers chief executive Charles Green get Rangers fans onside.
The major difference between the two deals is the money with Ashley giving Rangers much-needed investment, following the club reported losses of $7.7million this month. The fans whilst they may object, will have little say in the deal as it directly affects their club. They need the money and this is an avenue not explored by the club to date. The name Ibrox holds no significant meaning although it does hold a special place in the hearts of the fans, losing the name will make little difference to the product on the pitch which is the main focus. Other clubs like Arsenal and Manchester City have benefited hugely from these types of associations and have added additional revenue streams directly linked to their stadium sponsors as well which could potentially happen for Rangers too. For clubs in the MLS, naming rights on the stadium is the norm and some clubs, like New York Red Bulls have gone as far as incorporating the brand into their club name. This is unlikely to go happen to Rangers but cannot be fully ruled out as the club, like many others looks to tap into new sources of revenue.Green is confident that over time Rangers fans will grow to accept the change and embrace the new brand identity for the stadium. This may happen, but only if the fans get what they really want – a competitive Rangers team back in the Scottish Premier League where they feel they rightly belong.