Stop The Moral Outrage Over A Sponsorship Deal
Today Manchester City announced a sponsorship deal for their stadium that means it will be named after the airline Etihad, in a deal worth up to £300m over ten years, which includes sponsorship of the area around the stadium and various other interests.
I’ve yet to encounter a City fan who was remotely concerned at this news – far from it, as it was greeted as a two-fingered salute to Michel Platini and his financial fair play rules. It was common knowledge anyway – news of this deal has been rumoured for many months now, it was always going to happen as part of the sheikhs’ second phase of being economically self-sufficient.
Elsewhere though, there was outrage. Waving the placards most vigorously of all was the ever-entertaining Ollie Holt of the Mirror. He was depressed, distraught, devastated even at the news. Here are some of his thoughts on Twitter:
There are many ways in which the current owners of Manchester City have shown class. Renaming the stadium after a sponsor isn’t one of them.
I know part of the answer is FFP but if City have got so much cash, why do they have to sell a piece of their soul for stadium naming rights?
Many City fans saying they don’t care about stadium renaming because new stadium never had an identity anyway. Sad comment on the game.
Is it acceptable then to change name of team too? Presumably all in favour of Etihad Stadium would be fine with Etihad City as name of team.
Now if Maine Road had been re-named, I’d be rather more upset, as would a lot of City fans. But it hasn’t. What is being re-named is an eight year old stadium that didn’t have a set name anyway. How often have you heard a City fan refer to the City of Manchester Stadium? Some called it COMS, some called it Eastlands, some, like when getting a taxi to the ground, just call it “the city ground please mate”. Fans call their ground various names all the time, and will continue to call their ground what they want, sponsor or no sponsor.
In fact someone argued online of the loss of heritage in changing from Eastlands to the Etihad Stadium, the irony completely lost on him that Eastlands is not, and has never been the name of the ground – but it goes to show this deal changes nothing – fans and journalists alike have been happy to spend the last eight years calling the ground by a made-up name.
So I can see how in theory a re-name could be seen as sacrilege and offensive. One journalist commented that he would be disgusted if Celtic Park was re-named. But this is different, clearly. How can everyone not see this? This is not Celtic Park, this is not Wembley, Villa Park or Anfield. If it had happened eight years earlier no one would have batted an eyelid.
It was acceptable for Arsenal to move into a sponsored stadium without having to defend themselves, and Wigan and Bolton. It’s fine for Bayern Munich to do the same. Why the outrage now?
Inevitably the old misconception that Etihad actually translates to mean United was once more dug up out of the woodwork. It doesn’t, and I couldn’t care less if it did anyway, but if that’s all people have got to attack City with, then the outlook is definitely rosy.
People can moan about the soul of a club (a ridiculous concept that is impossible determine and does not in fact exist), about modern football being all about money, about the loss of identity and so on, but the bottom line is this – the stadium naming deal makes no difference to anything. Same team, same ground, same players, same kit, same players, same division, same match-day experience, same everything.
The fact is that the deal was inevitable the moment the financial fair play plans were agreed. As I have argued before, however noble Platini’s intentions were (not very, a cynic might say), the consequences of this will be clubs desperately trying to earn more money any which way they can, leading to sponsorship deals aplenty, higher ticket prices, and even less thought given to the fans. If you want to blame someone, look towards France.
Holt had already written an article on the topic a few days ago, bemoaning the re-naming of Leicester’s ground, to the King Power Stadium.
“If you defile the stadium by prostituting its name, you destroy part of the experience.”
No you don’t Ollie. My experience next season will not be 1% worse because of the name of the stadium. Any true football fan would know this.
“I could live with the Walkers Stadium even if it was named after a bag of crisps. It was the name of Leicester’s new arena and had been since they moved there from Filbert Street in 2002.”
What a ridiculous argument – you can have a sponsor’s name on the stadium when you move there, but don’t you dare do it eight or nine years down the line, as this is removing the soul from the game, and a depressing sign of what football has become? Utter hogwash.
Much of the argument revolves around that last point – how football is run by money, how things aren’t what they used to be. The fact is, there’s nothing worse than nostalgia. Football when I first started watching it in the 1980’s was a terrible time to be involved as a fan. Poor grounds, poor facilities, poor crowds, poor football on the whole, hooliganism, ID cards and tragedy after tragedy. I still loved every minute of course, but give me a sponsored ground and indoor toilets any day. Football has been about money since Sky invented the game in 1992. It seems some have only just woken up to the fact. Holt also mentioned Chesterfield’s sponsored stadium name, blissfully unaware of the massive financial problems they have suffered over the past decade or so, and how this deal will make their future even more secure.
Regarding City, the deal goes beyond the naming of a stadium anyway. It will form part of the £1 billion regeneration of the surrounding area, one of the poorest areas of the city. It will provide world-class sporting facilities and community football pitches. Etihad will also partner on youth and community projects both locally, throughout Britain and internationally. And clubs are after all part of the community in which they exist, and there to serve it. And it should be made clear too that Manchester City council do very well financially from the football club.
So what’s more important? A fatuous sense of outrage because the name of an almost new building has been changed, or the regeneration of east Manchester? Not a tough decision.
written by Howard Hockin