This is my column from The Gooner issue 230. After a rave review by @ThatSimonRose on twitter earlier, I have had literally millions of requests to post this. All right, literally two. I didn’t need much persuading.
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So, Emirates sponsorship: Arsenal originally signed a £90m contract with Emirates in 2004, covering eight years of shirt sponsorship (£48m at £6m a year) and 15 years of stadium naming rights (£42m at £2.8m a year) from 2006.
Now we have a £150m deal that gives an extra five years on the kit sponsorship and seven years on the stadium name. On the face of it that’s quite a good deal – well, compared to the old one. It’s not Man Utd level, but we’re not the Man Utd brand.
What the club haven’t said is what the split is between the stadium naming and the name on the shirt. The extra seven years of having a stadium with a crap name was just tagged on to the announcement as though it were an afterthought. Emirates Vice President Boutros Boutros was asked about it and seemed a bit uncertain as to whether it was easy to change a stadium name or not. He said: “It wasn’t a case of playing hard with the club because we knew it would be difficult to change the [stadium] name. When [Arsenal] moved from Highbury we were warned . . . ‘people will not forgive you, everybody knows it as Highbury.’ We witnessed in Australia other properties have changed name and the press gets used to it quickly. They do it so quickly between one brand and another; in England it’s different people, but I believe the colour of Emirates is red, the colour of Arsenal is red, the name of Emirates, the association by that time  . . . you can’t split it. If it splits I’m sure Arsenal will find somebody else.” So you can change a stadium name really easily in Australia, but in England it’s harder, but actually if you had to do it you could. Right.
When it was Ivan Gazidis’s turn, he said this: “We haven’t separated it out in that way. It’s very difficult to place a value on the [stadium] naming rights. It’s not a substantial part of the deal.”
Well surely the way to place a value on the stadium naming rights is the same way as anything else: see how much someone is willing to pay you for it! That usually works. What Ivan really appears to be saying is that once again Arsenal have not properly thought through a commercial deal.
Newcastle’s stadium is now sponsored by Wonga.com for £1.5m a year – but it has reverted to having the words ‘St James’’ back in the name, it’s not just ‘The Wonga Stadium’. Even so, ‘marketing experts’ suggested Newcastle should have been able to get £3-4m a year. So a smaller club than Arsenal without an exclusive sponsor’s name on the stadium should be able to get a minimum £3m a year? Given that, I’d say Arsenal should be able to get an absolute bare minimum £5m a year to call it ‘xxxxxxxx Stadium’ (insert name of any large brand). We got £2.8m a year in 2004 when we were desperate. And yet Ivan thinks it’s totally inconsequential that we are now tied to calling it Emirates Stadium until 2028, another 16 years! Just on the extra seven years he is basically giving away £35m minimum, and who knows how much naming rights could be sold for in 2021, when the original deal was to end?
Another thing: when the new shirt deal runs out in 2019, who will want to take it over knowing that the stadium name definitely isn’t changing for another nine years from then? You could argue that given how often people mention the stadium name it’s actually more valuable than what’s on the shirt – who on radio or TV or in the papers ever mentions a shirt sponsor? Stadium names are quoted every day.
But it’s okay, Ivan and his brilliant and expensively assembled commercial team thinks it’s not important. It’s nothing. It would be impossible to change a name (Millenium Dome to O2 Arena, anyone?) so let’s just give it away and put every ace in Emirates’ hands.
I really should try and set up a poker game with Ivan. He’d probably deal all his own cards out face up.
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