Football must embrace stadium name game

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A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet - unless you are a passionate football fan that is.

As all club's that aren't run by billionaire owners start to feel the financial pinch, a rubbish name for your beloved team's home stadium is perhaps an inevitable sign of things to come.

Newcastle United are the most recent high-profile club to make the controversial move, officially renaming their world renowned St James' Park the Sports Direct Arena back in November last year.

The sponsorship of the historic 52,000 seater-stadium has been identified by Magpies owner Mike Ashley and managing director Derek Llambias as a potential revenue stream to help fund at least one new top-class signing for Alan Pardew's Toon Army every season.

The only way for Newcastle to compete at the sharp end of the Premier League is to up their commercial revenue, which is currently lagging in millions of pounds behind clubs they have aspirations to rival on a regular basis, such as Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool.

"The naming rights is such a passionate thing," admitted Llambias in a recent interview with the Daily Mirror. "It's not about being disrespectful or taking away the tradition or the history of the club - it's about trying to get another Yohan Cabaye out there on the pitch. That's how we see it.

"To optimise our commercial side, we needed to get that in there - other clubs do it. We know we've got a huge responsibility, and we know there's a lot of emotion involved.

"We are not being disrespectful. There are only a few ways to increase our income. We know the naming rights is contentious, but that income is something we need."

Newcastle currently earn £15million a year from commercial deals such as shirt sponsorships and retailing, while Spurs bank £50m, Chelsea £45m, Manchester City £54m, and Manchester United a staggering £103m.

Despite the backlash from the club's supporters who strongly oppose the idea of selling the identity of their club, the decision is based on necessity rather than greed.

"Could our stadium be the O2 Arena of the north? I think it could," Llambias continued. "Sports Direct is showcasing the naming rights, but without Sports Direct we would not be in Newcastle.

"That is the business that gives Mike the power to do what we're doing, and the power to put £270million of his own money behind the football club."

Much further down the ladder, in the lower echelons of English football, is a story that truly puts things into perspective, particularly when it comes to the financial constraints faced by many clubs.

The story of Blue Square Bet Premier league side Bath City - who are offering local businesses, fans and even rival supporters the right to rename their Twerton Park ground for a paltry sum of just £50 - could prove to be another catalyst for change in the long-term future of stadium naming rights.

Fans can enter a draw to rename Twerton Park after themselves or a family member, a beloved past player, or a charity, while traditionalists who object to the idea are being encouraged to take part in a bid to keep the current name.

Bath City chairman, Manda Rigby told the Guardian: "We pride ourselves on being innovative at Bath City, and the stadium name draw is just the most recent example.

"We hope that businesses locally and nationally will recognise the tremendous value of acquiring the naming rights to our ground for just £50 but we also want our fans and the general public to get involved as well."

Those who enter the draw will also receive four tickets for Bath's match against Forest Green Rovers on Easter Monday. The draw will take place at half-time, with the winner earning naming rights to the stadium for the entire 2012-13 campaign.

In the MLS, stadium renaming is much more commonplace - and English fans should count their blessings - FC Dallas have to root for their team at the Pizza Hut Park, while the Colorado Rapids welcome teams to their prestigious Dick's Sporting Goods Park.

The Americanisation of the Premier League, with an influx of new foreign owners from across the Atlantic, such as John W Henry at Liverpool, the Glazers at Manchester United, Randy Lerner at Aston Villa, Ellis Short at Sunderland, and Stan Kroenke at Arsenal, means that the commercial change in England will ultimately become unavoidable - it's about time we start getting used to it.

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