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Name your stadium and name your price? It's not that simple

HAVING spent 107 years trying to beat the All Blacks, might Sunday be Scotland's last chance to do so at Murrayfield as we know it?

If Mark Dodson has anything to do with it, perhaps so. Last week, the Scottish Rugby Union chief executive announced that he hopes to sell the name of the stadium to a sponsor.

"We have had it valued at the moment," he said. "We are just checking on those values but it is millions of pounds per year."

A couple of days later I got a call from an old chum, Alan "Fingers" Ferguson, managing director of the Sports Business, asking whether Dodson had been serious or if it had been "a throwaway remark".

The reason he was asking was that, as one of the leading figures in the field of Scottish sponsorship – he has brokered countless deals with blue-chip companies – he had heard recently nothing about the SRU seeking stadium sponsors.

That being the case, and offering the context of the Scottish Premier League football deal which he describes as one of "the crown jewels of Scottish sponsorship" – it is apparently worth some £1.7m a year to permit its sponsor multiple weekly promotional opportunities – he wondered whether Dodson was quite legitimately seeking to draw interest by raising the subject in such a public way.

Ferguson reminded me that I had commissioned an article from him on this very subject back in the mid-1990s for the late, lamented Scottish Rugby magazine.

There is nothing new under the sun, of course, and this proposition has been repeatedly revisited since, by every subsequent SRU regime.

On the face of things, it would seem an obvious revenue generator. Murrayfield is an iconic, world-renowned venue so surely there would be no shortage of companies lining up to be associated with it.

Yet it is not as simple as that, as Ferguson pointed out 16 years ago and again now.

Between us we could not think of a single established football or rugby stadium in the British Isles that has been renamed under a substantial sponsorship deal which may be down to us being a couple of auld lads, but may also be down to there not being one.

The only successful cases we could think of were new-builds or those reconstructed or massively refurbished, such as Dublin's Lansdowne Road which, with just a wee bit of pressure on the Irish media from its football and rugby authorities, is now fairly widely known as the Aviva.

Ferguson is never one to dismiss any sponsorship proposal out of hand, though, and, while he thinks it unlikely, he does not rule out the possibility of a major company simply wanting to put its name above the door for prestige purposes. To that end, he notes that the forthcoming referendum may provide an opportunity as a multi-national seeks a visible presence in Scotland, just in case.

Perhaps more realistically, he also believes there are ways value could be generated for a sponsor by associating stadium sponsorship with a range of properties that would let the company involved become part of the fabric of Scottish rugby, albeit that would involve vast additional spending to make it work.

There are, though, problems there too, as demonstrated last week when Rugby Ecosse's bid to get the national sevens squad some much-needed extra match practice under its banner ran into problems . . . because the sponsor the touring team had organised, Aberdeen Asset Management, was considered to be a rival of Scotland 7s' sponsor RBS.

Since the RBS logo is also on the Scotland shirt and the bank backs national club league competition as well as the Six Nations, that would appear to rule out, for the time being at least, any of the financial institutions that represent a large percentage of the Scottish companies with the necessary financial clout.

Even if they escape with their unbeaten record unscathed from Sunday's visit, the All Blacks should not relax too much. There may be a few more chances yet for Scotland to beat them at Murrayfield before we have to try to get used to a name change following any marriage of mutual convenience.

And another thing

As referred to above, it was a real shame that neither Aberdeen Asset Management nor RBS, two of the SRU's main sponsors, got any useful images out of the best Scottish sevens performance for many years last weekend when Rugby Ecosse reached the final of the Singapore Sevens, losing to a top Fijian club.

Once Rugby Ecosse got there they were not even able, apparently, to wear the shirts, with the main sponsor's name blanked out. That meant there was also disappointment for Breakthrough Breast Cancer and kit makers Zoti, the other companies involved with the touring club, who were doing the SRU a favour by entering the shadow Scotland team.

Keith O'Connor of Rugby Ecosse has been in touch to say that all goodwill was not lost, however. "We donated strips to the local St Andrews boys' club so, in the end, they went to a good cause," he explained.

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