Should Ibrox Stadium be Sponsored?

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Ibrox. The very name is
thoroughly historic throughout football. While not the exact original ground
for tragic reasons among others, the modern Ibrox Stadium, as primarily
designed by legendary architect Archibald Leitch, is an iconic structure which
fans revere and which has even attracted top class players to join the club.
Rangers supporters hold their
home dear and the very sight of that recently renamed Bill Struth Main Stand
still sends shivers down the spine.
Which is why the stadium
sponsorship subject is such a sensitive one, and one which has been fiercely
discussed for many years. With Mike Ashley and the mooted Sports Direct
rebrand, there are clearly two camps in the debate; for and against.
It is fair to say discussion had
gone a tad quiet on the overall stadium deal front after it first broke at the
tail-end of November. Speculation spread that Ashley’s sports chain, which
briefly renamed his own club Newcastle United’s stadium the Sports Direct
Arena, was going to become involved with similarly renaming Ibrox. Ashley is of
course a major shareholder at Ibrox with an 8.9% stake in the club, and his
company would be a fairly obvious sponsor.
This was not specifically
confirmed by Charles Green but general interest was, and it does, as mentioned,
raise the sponsorship question again and focus on the benefits and costs.
The major obvious benefit to
Rangers, and a very significant one at that, is the money. That is why clubs
agree to such deals – a large brand pays them good money to have its logo
plastered all over the stadium. High-profile advertising is big business and
dozens of clubs worldwide have switched from their ‘natural’ club names to a
retail chain. Man City are a big example; while they were previously at
Maine Road
and moved to the City of Manchester
Stadium, it was not long before it was rebranded the
Etihad.
In Arsenal’s case they not only
renamed the stadium – they rebuilt it as well, moving from Highbury to the
Emirates. This brought them in millions, most of which went on the rebuild it would have to be
said. Bayern did similar, switching from the Olympic Stadium in Berlin to their very own
corporate sponsored Allianz Arena. Bolton, and Wigan
did exactly the same.
It is big business in football,
and the rumoured Sports Direct deal would net Rangers an entirely unknown
number of millions but completely fabricated attempts at prediction suggest
maybe £10M a year. Rangers require no new stadium so the money would not
disappear into bricks and mortal but would lay the foundations for the club’s
future when it returns to a higher level.
The second benefit is a bidding
war. Yes, again it is a fiscal positive only, but CEO Green stated on January
23rd:
            “We have narrowed it down to two or three
people who I feel can deliver what we want and the fans want, which is
something that we can all be comfortable with and also brings income into the
club.”
By drumming up multiple sources
of interest it creates a potential bidding war. Ashley’s chain, as mentioned,
is not specifically confirmed as interested but the idea as a whole of stadium
sponsorship is certainly on the table and by suggesting several parties’
interest the value of the deal could increase.
Now we look at the drawback and
of course the biggest is the simple notion of an historic name being erased in
favour of a brand. Supporters hold their stadium name dear, especially if it
has years and years of pedigree. Renaming is regarded as a violation, as
sacrilege, and the idea of an ‘Ibrox Sports Direct Stadium’ may be a compromise
but is still nigh-on heresy in the eyes of most fans. On this topic Green has
added:
            “Charles Green personally is going to fight
to get the Ibrox name in that new title. I’m never going to ask a taxi driver
to get me to the Fred Bloggs Arena, I’m going to ask him to take me to Ibrox.
I’m sure people who have been associated with Ibrox for longer than I have are
going to refer to it as its historical name. However, it is that history that
attracts a sponsor, that’s why people are prepared to pay naming rights for
some stadiums and not others. And I’m sure the sponsor will want to retain some
of that identity.”
So it is a half way house. It is
not a strict erase of Ibrox, but it does ‘abridge’ the name somewhat. It is,
naturally, the biggest problem when it comes to stadium sponsorship and Newcastle fans were
appalled when St James was temporarily called the Sports Direct Arena.
Thankfully for the Toon Army Wonga.com entered the scene with a new deal and
renamed the ground back to St James’.
However, as hinted, Ibrox will
not become the ‘Fred Bloggs Arena’ but will still retain its iconic moniker.
Just, alongside the rest of the brand, whichever one wins the deal.
It is safe to say fans are
divided. Many are old-school and the idea of any sponsorship on the sacred
ground is simply appalling – the money is irrelevant, history and integrity are
not. The notion of changing such a symbolic title for the green stuff is really
quite disquieting.
On the other hand some are more
accommodating, seeing a need to ‘move with the times’ and if it ‘brings in
much-needed cash’, so much the better. After all, it still has ‘Ibrox’ in the
title.
However Mark Dingwall of the RST,
probably summed it up the best recently:
           
            “I
think most fans, in their hearts, would be against it, but the financial
realities mean that the club has to consider such an investment
. We maintain that it would be far better
for the club if they consider it when we return to the top flight in Scotland and also to Europe.
I think that would bring major benefits to the club at that point. The
overwhelming opinion that we have judged is that the majority of fans wish the
stadium still to be called Ibrox. If it is sponsored by a company, they want to
retain the title as Ibrox.”
I may have previously disagreed
with certain aspects of the RST, but I would argue their head has pretty much
summed it up fairly here. Particularly the part in bold.
It will always be Ibrox, it just might bring in some badly-needed
revenue if it gets a surname. Especially given Green also recently confirmed
the club will make no profit this financial year, with turnover below £30M.
Needs must as the Devil,
sponsored by Prada, drives?

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