More than just a name: Naming rights sponsorship

How the name of a football stadium creates brand loyalty

Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund, the Allianz Arena in Munich or Veltins Arena AufSchalke – naming rights sponsorship is now a fairly common sight in the Bundesliga. At the start of the year, Hannover 96, in the second league, announced that their stadium would be called the Heinz von Heiden Arena from July 2022 onwards, with this company having supported the club since the 2014/15 season. At present, 15 out of 18 Bundesliga clubs have a naming rights deal. The figure is 11 for the 2. Bundesliga. This form of sponsorship was nowhere to be seen in German football for far too long. It was only in 2001 that the first club came up with the idea of “renting” its stadium’s name to a company – and so SPORTIVE helped turn HSV’s Volksparkstadion into the AOL Arena.

The early days of naming rights sponsorships

Naming rights have their roots in the USA. William Wrigley, the chewing gum entrepreneur and owner of the Chicago Clubs, had the team’s baseball stadium renamed to “Wrigley Field” as far back as 1926. The Schaefer Stadium is an early example of the sale of naming rights to a company that wasn’t the owner of the team in question. The former home of the New England Patriots in the NFL, the stadium was renamed in homage to the F. & N. Schaefer Brewery in 1971 – who paid just shy of USD 150,000 for the privilege.

Naming rights sponsorship means lots of opportunities for brands

Whether in North America or Europe, it’s generally the case that naming rights offer sports rights holders the chance to boost their turnover. At the same time, companies and brands can use these deals to attract interest and improve their reputation. Nevertheless, the various global markets differ greatly in terms of their revenue.

Opportunities are increasingly recognised in Europe

In Europe, naming rights sponsorship isn’t anywhere near as widespread as in North America, but it is becoming increasingly popular. The 1. Bundesliga in Germany, in particular, has picked up the trend and now generates more revenue than any other league in Europe when it comes to naming rights. Last year, clubs made just shy of EUR 36 million through such deals. Thanks to successful corporate partnerships, sports rights holders can invest more in their infrastructure and teams.

Best practice from international football

Europe’s top football leagues and the five North American major leagues have now earned just shy of USD 823 million, thanks to a total of 147 naming rights deals. USD 730 million comes from North America alone, with the Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Serie A, LaLiga and the Premier League contributing just 11 percent.

What do experts think?

For companies, it’s worth investing in naming rights because it means that visiting a stadium isn’t the only way to reach the target group. The stadium’s name is also mentioned in video games, like the FIFA series, and makes its way into fans’ living rooms as a result. It’s even possible to reach people who aren’t massive football fans. That’s because stadium names are often included on motorway signs or bus stops. And if the stadium is used for other events alongside football matches, the name and, by extension, the company, sticks in people’s memory. From a strategic perspective, it’s important that both rights holders and the company are clear on the fact that naming rights sponsorship needs to take a long-term approach if they want it to be successful. Ganesh Pundt, Managing Editor at Stadionwelt, describes the situation as follows: 

The topic of stadium naming rights will occupy rights holders and companies for a good while yet: hardly any other sponsorship right has such a unique position and can reach people outside the target group of football. 

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