Liverpool FC fans will no doubt be looking for clues as to the direction their new American owners will be taking their club. The recent stadium developments in Texas may be of great interest to them.
One of the central parts of Liverpool’s near future is the move to a new stadium. Not long after George Gillett and Tom Hicks (owner of the Texas Rangers) announced they were buying the club, details about possible changes to the plans started being reported. The British press focused on the “bunker” lounges that Hicks suggested might be incorporated into the new Liverpool stadium and just recently there has been several news stories about plans to increased the projected capacity.
However, the main emotive issue when it comes to a stadium is its name. Selling the naming rights to a new stadium can be extremely lucrative (and often essentially in helping to pay for it), but you can also end up with something that sounds daft (PETCO park would be a good example!). Gillett and Hicks have been up front about the desirability of securing a stadium sponsor and in many ways putting a sponsor’s name on a brand new stadium is more palatable than suddenly being told that we now have to refer to the MacDonalds Anfield.
The problem with these corporate names is that not only do they lack character, but they don’t seem to last. Take the San Francisco Giants for example. Their new stadium (replete with an 80 ft Coca-Cola bottle â€“ imagine one of those turning up on the Kop!) is on its third name and has only been open for seven years. Business re-branding and merges have forced these changes on the Giants and the result is that few people can relate to AT&T Park. The Rangers’ neighbours, the Houston Astros, famously changed the name of their ballpark although this was a rather extreme example due to the Enron scandal. Having to change your stadium’s name due to the embarrassing link with Enron is bad enough, but I wouldn’t be surprised if referring to â€œMinute Maid Parkâ€ leaves a few Astros fans red-faced as well.
The Rangers have just announced that they have reached a settlement with Ameriquest that will terminate their $81 million, thirty year stadium sponsorship deal after only three years. You will do well to find a reference to Ameriquest that isn’t followed by the phrase â€œthe troubled mortgage brokerâ€, so that gives you some idea why this has taken place. Still, the Rangers are claiming that Tom Hicks personally set this in motion as part of a re-branding initiative. The ballpark will now be called the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and a report from the Dallas Business Journal states that this is due to the perceived benefits of having the Rangers name prominently displayed amid the new developments around the stadium (not least the new Dallas Cowboys stadium).
Considering the rich history of the Liverpool name, fears that these Americans will simply grab the most money on offer may be wide of the mark. Liverpool fans at the very least should be encouraged that their new owners know the negatives of selling the naming rights to a stadium, and that they know how valuable the names of sports teams can be.