Chelsea to sell naming rights

CHELSEA last night took the shock step of putting the naming rights for their current stadium, Stamford Bridge, up for sale.<br /><br />The move comes just days after Newcastle&rsquo;s home of 117 years was re-branded James&rsquo; Park, to widespread derision.<br /><br />Chelsea are owned by Roman Abramovich, one of the world&rsquo;s richest men with an estimated fortune of &pound;7.8bn, although he has sought to make the club self-sufficient having pumped in more than &pound;500m.<br /><br />Blues chief executive Ron Gourlay, speaking for the first time since succeeding Peter Kenyon this week, said a renaming would, like Newcastle, retain the ground&rsquo;s existing identity.<br /><br />&ldquo;Retaining the heritage of the stadium is paramount to considering such a move but we think that is achievable and on that basis we would enter into discussions over naming rights with the right partner for Chelsea,&rdquo; he said.<br /><br />&ldquo;We understand this is a sensitive issue for fans and that is why we would keep the name Stamford Bridge in any deal. <br /><br />&ldquo;What we&rsquo;re not prepared to happen &ndash; and I&rsquo;m sure our fans will appreciate this &ndash; is allow our rival clubs to gain a competitive advantage over us in terms of the revenue they can generate through either expanding the capacity of their existing stadia or moving to a new stadium.&rdquo;<br /><br />Newcastle are the most high-profile club to have re-branded their existing ground, but others have sold naming rights to new stadia. <br /><br />The airline Emirates paid &pound;100m for a 15-year deal with Arsenal that also included an eight-year kit sponsorship. It is estimated Chelsea could earn &pound;8m a year from re-naming Stamford Bridge.<br /><br />Gourlay&rsquo;s admission comes just days before Chelsea host champions Manchester United in a top-of-the-table Premier League clash. Striker Wayne Rooney is set to return to the United starting line-up following the birth of his son Kai.