George Harborne: Football Stadia – What’s in a name?

WBA-georgeharborneGeorge Harborne, Head of Partnerships at Premier League side West Bromwich Albion, reveals some reserach the club has done into naming rights for stadia.

Old Trafford, Anfield, Bramall Lane, Goodison Park, The Hawthorns and the list goes on. English football has an abundance of beautifully historic stadia, all adding to one of the countries football primary unique selling points – heritage.

But with the ever increasing pressures of FFP, should clubs be looking to cash in on this history and make use of what is arguably the most undervalued and under-utilised commercial asset in sponsorship in England? And does it provide any value to football’s commercial partners?

Culture

In the US we can see that Stadium/Venue naming rights is a widely accepted and lucrative practice. It is worth considering that jersey branding and sponsorship does not take place in the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB though. This void means that the home of a sports team then becomes the greatest saleable sponsorship asset, ultimately making the practice, through the volume of these agreements in the country, far more accepted.

With the practice of naming rights dating back to arguably either 1912 (Fenway park, Boston) or 1926 (Wrigley Field, Chicago), it is as much engrained in US sports marketing culture as it isn’t in the UK. By comparison, Scarborough were the first club in England to sell their naming rights to their existing home, back in 1998.

New Builds

One area where naming rights has become more widely accepted is around newly built stadia or when teams become new tenants to a relatively new stadium. We have seen this with Manchester City (Etihad), Stoke City (Britannia), Brighton & Hove Albion (Amex) and Arsenal (Emirates).

We are likely to see a similar deal for the new home of Tottenham Hotspur in the near future.

The Fans

Speaking specifically about my role as Head of Partnerships at West Bromwich Albion, we understand the potential commercial value to the Club that can come from monetising The Hawthorns in some way. Naming rights is not an option, as we value our 115 year old link to The Hawthorns name.

But what do the fans think and want? I have produced a couple of questions which were answered by 100 respondents. The information can be found below:

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With a resounding 76% of the vote, those surveyed believed that clubs shouldn’t look to sell the naming rights to their stadium.

Surprisingly, the widely held view that naming rights is acceptable on new build stadia was brought into question via the survey. With the split at 51% ‘No’ to 49% ‘Yes’, the naming rights is certainly more palatable with fans than renaming established homes but not as widely accepted as some may think.

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Presenting Partner

Based on our decision internally to rule out naming rights we decided to create the ‘Stadium Presenting Partner’ designation. As mentioned above, we want to realise the revenue potential of The Hawthorns whilst also noting that our stadium can underpin a significant partnership opportunity for the right brand.

At present, many clubs sell individual stand sponsorships which have made the interior of their stadium look a little bit like a patchwork quilt in terms of the displaying of multiple brands. But by removing stand sponsorship as an asset and rolling all of these branding opportunities in to one ‘presenting partner’ opportunity then we are able to create a high impact branding solution for a partner, delivering fixed branding site advertising exclusivity in-stadia, whilst also keeping The Hawthorns looking clean with one brand benefitting from the continuity of their message and presence of their brand.

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We wanted to make sure that this sole brand approach is something that fans would also prefer, which is supported in the results of the final question in our short survey.

Summary

To summarise, stadia present a strong opportunity for clubs to tie in a new partner to a key asset whilst also benefitting from the increase in commercial revenue.

With naming rights off the table to most clubs, including West Bromwich Albion, we have worked toward putting together an alternative opportunity, delivering huge brand exposure along with a high media value, whilst avoiding the requirement of renaming of a stadium and the negativity for all stakeholders in this eventuality.

Watch this space as West Bromwich Albion welcome new and continue with existing enquiries for the opportunity ahead of the 15/16 season as The Hawthorns gets closer to celebrating its 115th birthday.

George Harborne is currently Head of Partnerships at English Premier League football club West Bromwich Albion. To contact George please email [email protected]. This article was originally published on LinkedIN.

 

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