It was reported last week that Wembley Stadium, the home of the England national football team and the professional game’s showpiece finals, will be subject to a new naming rights deal with the 4G mobile network EE. According to Joe Hare’s story for The Telegraph, the venue will retain its name and be referred to as some variation of ‘Wembley Stadium in association with EE’.
On the face of it that’s hardly invasive. It’s often said of stadium deals of this kind that it will never sit particularly squarely with supporter parlance, with sponsors presumably knowing full well that should the supporters choose to call a stadium by its old name they will do exactly that.
Of course, this is different for true new builds like Pride Park or the Reebok, but Wembley has now been open for some time and is located on its long established site. Keeping Wembley in its name makes it inconceivable that supporters will call it anything else. ‘The EE Stadium’ would gradually become known as exactly that, unfortunately, but that’s modern football.
So theoretically the naming rights deal confirmed last week only has three tangible effects. First, expect to see EE’s livery around the ground, from some no doubt revolting signage on the outside to a new uniform (possibly) for the remarkable number of young women deployed to hold doors open for supporters – or, rather, spectators – using The FA Club on a matchday.
Second, while supporters won’t ever change the way they refer to Wembley Stadium as long as Wembley remains in its name, Clive Tyldesley and his media colleagues will presumably be contractually obliged to give it its full title, at least sometimes. So what. The FA Cup has bigger problems than “sponsored by Budweiser” and England have bigger problems than EE.
Finally, the deal will obviously boost the Football Association’s coffers. Clearly this is the central point of the matter and one has to presume the deal makes good business sense, but there are questions and complaints that come with that too.
For example, the FA’s decision to keep the national stadium in London and the associated overspend has had some undesirable side effects. The need to keep the organisation’s head above water has arguably further cheapened the FA Cup’s latter stages, with the final now representing a second visit to Wembley on what seems to be a permanent basis.
Renaming the stadium, which won’t go down well with all supporters, is another measure that might have been avoided, but does it even matter? There’s an argument that this is money for old rope, given that supporters will never really see the work, partnerships or negotiations that will happen behind the scenes as a result of this deal, nor call the stadium by its official name.
We won’t know that a certain number of EE executives will be treated to hospitality at each game, or that Steven Gerrard and Roy Hodgson might have to dedicate half an hour a month to EE marketing activity.
It’s a matter of principle, though, and while I can’t get myself too worked up about this particular instance (until they paint Wembley teal and yellow) it is true that the sponsorship of the national stadium in England is a step further from the club stadium naming rights deals that are now so common. It’s another encroachment of modern football, another demonstration of the fundamental importance of the bottom line.
In fact, if the deal is worth the £8m the FA was seeking (per the Telegraph link above) then I might even be persuaded that this is a good thing, if only the money were going to be invested in youth and grassroots football.
Unfortunately it would take some pretty solid evidence to convince me of that likelihood, and so the old traditionalist in me must take over and roll his eyes at an unfortunate move from a governing body that I’d dearly love to be above such pandering to the balance sheets.
(Photo credit: EEPaul via Flickr)
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