London could soon be treated to a new raft of daftly-named landmarks, as the long-term naming rights for key Olympic venues are put up for sale. The Olympic Park Legacy Company is seeking sponsors for Stratford’s Olympic Stadium, Copper Box handball arena and Aquatics Centre. The sponsors gain naming rights when the venues reopen in 2013.
Applicants have until 2 March to register their interest, with a final decision in May. The venues will each lose the ‘Olympic’ portion of their title when they take on sponsorship, as the International Olympic Committee strictly forbids properties still associated with the games from receiving commercial branding.
Recent years have seen commercial naming rights move from the realm of too-far American curiosities (Pizza Hut Park, anyone?), to a disheartening fact of everyday life. Newcastle residents still mourn the loss of their sporting heart, St James Park – now known as The Sports Direct Arena.
To the surprise of many Londoners, CNN cited the O2 arena as an example of how venues can sell naming rights successfully. Renaming the old Millennium Dome apparently gave the building “a new, better identity,” reckons CNN, adding that the name has become part of metropolitan vernacular.
But a quick survey of past naming rights disasters is enough to put any self-respecting Londoner on their guard. Choice picks include:
- KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, Kentucky) – Unfeasibly listed by CNN alongside the O2 as an example of “how to get it right”, the home of the University of Louisville Cardinals Basketball Team doesn’t stop at referencing one of the least sporting foodstuffs available – it also legally includes an entirely inexplicable exclamation mark. Yum!? No.
- Mitsubishi Forklift Stadion (Almere, Netherlands) – Dutch footballing side Almere City FC didn’t exactly attract the big guns when they opened their new home in 2005, but might just be happy not to have gone the same way as their Irish peers…
- Hunky Dorys Park (Drogheda, Republic of Ireland) – This tiny 2,000-capacity football stadium signed a sponsorship deal with Ireland’s “leading crinkle-cut crisp brand” in 2010, giving Drogheda United fans a home to be ashamed of.
- Enron Field (Houston, Texas) – briefly, until the company’s collapse in 2001, the Houston Astros Baseball team played out of this 40,000-seat arena financed by the infamous energy trading fraudsters. It is now known as Minute Maid Park, after the Coca Cola-owned juice brand.
Following last year’s record-breaking sponsorship deal by Farmers Insurance Exchange for a new stadium in LA, the smart money could be on London’s key venues going the same way as that other recent Olympic host, Sydney. The Australian games’ showpiece Telstra Stadium is now known as the ANZ Stadium after signing a seven-year deal with a leading bank – and a resurgent City could clean up similarly in the Olympic Park.
Sceptical Londoners can take solace in the fact that the sponsors sometimes suffer for their lavishness, with Enron leading the rogues’ gallery of companies who take a nosedive after giving their names to stadiums. Yet Arsenal fans will be forgiven for worrying that it will be the sporting hosts, not the sponsor who inherit the curse, as the still-trophyless former giants ponder the wisdom of their move from ancestral home Highbury to the Emirates.
What would you like to see? Coutts Stadium, Stratford? The Pieminister Aquatics Arena? Amstrad Handball Centre? Suggestions below.
By Matt Ponsford