Money makes the world go round, the world go round…
LIVERPOOL will brush off the controversy over England’s top clubs selling naming rights to their stadiums and chase the most expensive naming rights deal in the history of sport. Despite the recession, the Merseyside club’s hierarchy are convinced they can raise a mammoth £250m by persuading a leading global firm to buy the rights to name Liverpool’s proposed ground.
Liverpool’s owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, have been buoyed by their record £20m-per-season shirt sponsorship agreement signed recently with Standard Chartered, taking it as proof of the world-wide appeal of the club and the Premier League. These factors have persuaded Hicks and Gillett to revisit stadium-building plans, shelved due to Liverpool’s debts. The two Americans now believe they can underwrite more than 50% of the cost of building a new ground on a site earmarked on Stanley Park through a world-record naming rights sale.
The benchmark they have set Liverpool’s commercial team is the deal signed between the New York Mets baseball franchise and Citigroup. The American financial services giant paid $20m (£12m) a year over 20 years to have a new stadium, Citi Field, opened by the Mets early in 2009. Liverpool believe they can outstrip that. “Naming rights are a global market,” said Hicks. “We likely will partner with someone wanting global branding, unlike the US stadiums, which only worry about TV appeal in the States, similar to why Standard Chartered chose to partner with us on our shirts.”
Despite debts approaching £300m and Liverpool’s onfield worries, Hicks remains bullish about the outlook for his club. He said Rafael Benitez would not be forced to sell star players even if Liverpool fail to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League. Hicks and Gillett are seeking new investors, in the hope of raising money to reduce the club’s debt by diluting their shareholding, and spoke of “significant interest”. They are undeterred by protests by Newcastle fans in response to their club’s stadium being renamed sportsdirect.com@St James’ Park Stadium and criticism of Chelsea, who last week announced they were looking to sell off naming rights to Stamford Bridge in the hope of raising £150m.
Liverpool believe their situation is different, because they are building a new stadium rather than renaming an existing one. They regard as a precedent Arsenal, who signed a £100m 15-year deal with Emirates, which also included shirt sponsorship, when they moved from Highbury in 2006. Manchester United are the only Big Four club for whom a naming rights sale does not appear an option. A club source said a rights sale involving Old Trafford is “not on our agenda”. Sir Alex Ferguson said Chelsea’s plans were driven by money. “It is the only reason I can think of. But it does not really concern me. I wouldn’t have thought [it would happen at United].” (Times Online)
Now this is a tricky issue to deal with without getting too bogged down with issues of tradition and custom. Obviously the idea of naming the new stadium in any way that doesn’t involve the use of the word ‘Anfield’ or slightly amending it’s title with the addition of a sponsor should be done with as much care and attention as possible and not simply used in a mistaken way as it has been done at Newcastle United.
The money generated by such a move is too much to turn down and given the financial situation we find ourselves in it may well be the easiest way to make easy money. Now I for one would have preferred we went down this route under different owners but it does seem that this move would have occurred sooner or later and clearly if/when our move from Anfield takes place, if it ever does, then this issue would have been broached.
Now we can only hope that any move to name the new stadium can be achieved without a) it becoming some self promotion exercise for Messrs Hicks and Gillett, as it has done with Mike Ashley and his Sports Direct company and that b) any new name can still incorporate the word ‘Anfield’.
As a club we are swimming in self induced debt brought on by the manner in which our owners were allowed to purchase the club with debts that we now find ourselves forking out millions just to cover the interest payments on. If such a move helps get the whole process of building the new stadium underway then that too is a necessary evil as long as again it isn’t just a way for our American owners to avoid sinking some of their own money into the project.
Clearly we don’t want to have a stadium with a silly name. Pizza Hut Park is one such type of naming we want to avoid but I guess any such issue will fall to the highest bidder, whomever that may be.
Sooner or later I imagine that most stadia will end up being sponsored in some manner and even though the idea of such a thing does in some way make me yearn for an age when the game wasn’t literally all about money, it is something that will need to be done and as long as it can be done with the utmost respect and delicacy then all well and good. However given the two men in charge of the whole proceedings, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, I do fear for what we could end up with. The Burger King Palace anyone?