Sheffield United Opinion: Selling the naming rights for Bramall Lane stadium may make economic sense... but is the trade-off worth parting with tradition?

The oldest stadium in the world, still hosting professional football matches. The home of football's first cup final; the venue for the game's first floodlit game.

By Danny Hall
Tuesday, 25th June 2019, 4:21 pm

One of only two grounds to host an Ashes Test match and an FA Cup final; later the turf on which Brian Deane made history by scoring the Premier League's first goal.

Bramall Lane, the home of Premier League club Sheffield United, is soaked in rich history. Over the years it has become a modern arena, befitting a top-flight club, but retains that important sense of tradition, too; its mismatched stands, on their day, can still create a proper atmosphere which is at odds with many of the soulless, 'bowl' grounds springing up and down the country.

Some of that tradition, though, may soon come under threat after The Star revealed yesterday that United may consider selling the naming rights to Bramall Lane in the future, a story later backed-up by an interview with co-owner Kevin McCabe on local radio.

The advantages are clear. A recent report by a US consultancy firm revealed that the potential, cumulative value of stadium sponsorship deals, in the cash-soaked world of Premier League football, has climbed five per cent to £142m, although still less than a third of the league's grounds have such a deal in place.

The most high-profile of those, according to the report, is Manchester City's Etihad Stadium, with the airline paying something in the region of £22m a season to plaster their logo across the City of Manchester Stadium. At the other end of the scale Bournemouth, who United face on the opening day of the season, are estimated to receive just under a million pounds a season from Vitality for the naming rights to Dean Court.

The first consideration for United, then, is the actual levels of money involved. The report, by Duff and Phelps, estimated that Huddersfield receive just £200,000 a season from John Smith's in return for rebranding their stadium. Since it was built, the ground has also been named after construction company Alfred McAlpine and Galpharm Healthcare, and rarely by its actual name; which apparently is the Kirklees Stadium. Who knew?

There, inherently, is the biggest problem for clubs - like United - whose stadia have remained untouched by sponsorship before. Bramall Lane is known throughout football as, well, Bramall Lane, whereas the average football fan probably wouldn't be able to point to 'Ashburton Grove' on a map.

Some Blades fans believe taking the cash now, in return for the ground's name, would be like selling the club's soul; Ashburton Grove didn't really have one after the builders moved out, and before another airline in Emirates flew in and bought up the rights.

Other Blades, judging by the cross-section of opinion on Twitter since yesterday's story broke, see things a little more pragmatically, even if figures of around £5m being banded about were on the optimistic side. (That, according to Duff and Phelps, is just less than West Ham would command for sponsorship of the London Stadium, and more than established top-flight clubs like Everton and Leicester City).

Football has moved on, they argue, and United have to move with the times. I personally see both points of view; especially considering Sheffield, on the whole, doesn't really bother showing any real interest at all in its position as the home of football and certainly - according to those who would know - made no real effort to bring the National Football Museum to the city when it left Preston's Deepdale ground.

What's in a name anyway? To the vast majority of fans who'll flock through the doors every other weekend, the stadium would remain Bramall Lane anyway. Only the media and the club itself, for contractual reasons, would probably use any new moniker, if and when it was adopted. Reducing the deal to the simplest of terms, is that trade-off worth, say, a new striker's wages? Some would say yes. Others wouldn't. There are no easy answers.

The best way to demonstrate this, is to ask any Blades fan whereabouts in the ground they sit - and see how many say 'Kop' or 'family stand'. A damn sight more, for my money, that would come back with 'HE Barnes Stand' or 'Kennedy's Kop'.

Another United fan, Paul Commons, made a good point; that Premier League football is worth many tens of millions to United anyway, and so such a move shouldn't be needed. It makes sense. Although, clubs like Bournemouth and Brighton and Hove Albion - who may turn out to be rivals for United, possibly in the table and maybe for players - also earn that Premier League cash, plus extra from Vitality and American Express on top - giving them another financial advantage over the Blades.

Now, more than ever, cash is king in the game, but there's still a place for tradition, too. Both sides of the argument have their merits and whichever path United take, there'll be no criticism from this direction!

Bramall Lane (Richard Markham)
Brian Deane Sheffield Utd v Manchester United. Scoring first Premiership goal. 15th August 1992
Bramall Lane Stadium, Sheffield - Harry Marshall/Sportimage