Chelsea to follow Newcastle United in selling stadium naming rights
LONDON - First there was Scarborough's McCain Stadium, then came Arsenal's The Emirates and Newcastle United's Sportsdirect.com@St James' Park, now Chelsea look set to sell the naming rights for their 132-year-old ground Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea's new chief executive Ron Gourlay has said the club hopes to bring in as much as £150m by tying a brand down to a 10- to-15-year deal on the 42,000-seat ground. It follows this week's decision by Newcastle’s owner Mike Ashley to rename St James' Park after his sports fashion chain Sports Direct.
Despite the backing of the multi-billionaire oligarch Roman Abramovich, Gourlay said the club needs to build additional income streams to compete with the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United, whose grounds hold 60,000-plus spectators.
Gourlay, who has only been in the job a week, said any rebrand would need to keep the Stamford Bridge name in some form, raising the prospect of the club deploying a similar method of branding to that used by Newcastle.
However, brands will be wary of previous experiences of fans taking against their club's ground being renamed.
Critics of Newcastle's deal with owner Mike Ashley's retail chain have complained it is destroying the heritage of the club and complained about the new name's resemblance to an email address. Additionally Tyneside MP David Cleland has tabled a House of Commons motion against the rebrand.
Scarborough’s long-suffering fans, perhaps more weary of watching their team slide out of the Football League, took a more prosaic view and renamed the McCain Stadium the "Theatre of Chips".
Arsenal's decision to sell the rights to their ground The Emirates Stadium in 2004 was made easier by the new stadium being devoid of any of the historical baggage attached to its old home Highbury.
But it is arguable that Chelsea's fans will be more sensitive as Stamford Bridge is intrinsically linked to the formation of the club.
Chelsea FC did not exist when Stamford Bridge was built. When the site was developed into a football stadium in 1905 it was initially offered to local team Fulham, who decided to stay at Craven Cottage and as a result the ground's owners decided to found a new team to play there.
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