What’s in a name? The value of stadium sponsorship

RECENT murmurings from Chelsea and Newcastle have once again raised the thorny issue of stadium naming rights, and more specifically what they are actually worth in the Premier League.

Part of the problem is that no-one is terribly sure. Logically, one would use recent precedent as a guide, but there are inherent problems with using the best-known examples in England’s top division.

Arsenal sold theirs to airline Emirates in a 15-year deal worth £100m, which also included shirt sponsorship. But that deal was struck almost a decade ago, when the British market was in its infancy, and the popular belief now is that Arsenal sold too cheaply.

Manchester City are a more contemporary example, having done their deal with Etihad Airways earlier this year, yet this example presents multiple difficulties. Firstly, the estimated £350m price for 10 years includes the branding of stadium, shirt and training complex, with no available breakdown of the figures. Secondly, and perhaps more pertinently, opinion varies wildly as to whether the price paid by a company owned by City’s owners is indeed fair, or a sophisticated means of circumventing new European so-called Financial Fair Play rules.

This is why industry experts are eager for a leading Premier League team to strike a stadium naming rights deal soon: it would bring some much-needed clarity to the market.

What is beyond dispute is that naming rights are worth far more at a new stadium than an existing one, which fans will probably continue to refer to by its traditional name, as Newcastle are no doubt discovering.

Others argue, sensibly, that big money only comes when the deal plays globally. So Chelsea are better placed to charge a high price, with Champions League appearances and world-famous stars, than Newcastle.

Experts have mocked Newcastle’s belief they can attract up to £10m a season for a combined stadium and shirt sponsorship. But some believe Chelsea, who are close to doing a deal, can expect to at least match Arsenal’s Emirates contract, while others believe they could attract as much as £10m annually, if their ambition of leaving Stamford Bridge for a purpose-built venue is realised.

The truth is, however, that clubs’ claims about the value of their naming rights will remain in doubt until the likes of Chelsea and Newcastle illustrate just what market price is.