Tottenham Hotspur's stadium naming rights package might not delight fans, but it will entice brands
Spurs chairman Daniel Levy is not known as one of football's great romantics, instead enjoying a reputation as the game’s toughest negotiator.
This image has been further enhanced as he attempts to land a naming rights partner to help pay for the North London club’s expensive new stadium.
Levy has made it known that Spurs' new ground will no longer be referred to as White Hart Lane, despite it being built next to the beloved old stadium.
Fans won’t be happy, but from a commercial point of view the idea is simple enough. The price Levy can generate from the deal is likely to be higher as incoming sponsors much prefer a clean environment, free from past associations.
No self-respecting Newcastle fan would dream of referring to St James' Park as the Sports Direct Arena and for a similar reason, the Olympic Stadium is proving a hard sell for West Ham’s owners.
By comparison, the Emirates and the Etihad are an everyday part of the football and civic landscape as naming rights partners for Arsenal and Manchester City respectively. They were first in so don’t have a legacy name to overcome.
The search for a new partner goes beyond football however.
Recently, a marketing executive from Tottenham told the Guardian of its ambition to break the Saturday and Wednesday cycle that dogs football’s commercial ambitions: "We want this to be the most compelling and unique entertainment and leisure destination anywhere, which can help bring tourism and activity to Tottenham 365 days of the year."
That’s quite an aspiration as the market for London venues is looking crowded. Wembley, the SSE Arena (formerly Wembley conference centre), the Albert Hall and the O2 is each vying to host top end music acts with relative newcomers such as the Emirates, the Olympic Park and Twickenham. That’s before we get to Hyde Park and the festival scene.
All of which puts the emphasis on the prospective brand partner to establish a clear strategy. Put simply, what can they achieve by naming a football ground?
Broadly, there are two themes at play for the potential sponsor. One puts brand engagement at the centre of its plan and the other places greater emphasis on broader awareness metrics. These are not mutually exclusive but they do impact on the fundamentals of the negotiation process, and in particular, the price of the property.
The O2 and Wembley connected by EE are both great examples of brand engagement strategies which uses the venue to showcase the core service offer. The stadium is viewed in both cases as an entertainment opportunity rather than just an advertising platform.
EE focused on what its customers were interested in and how and where its mobile technology could enhance that. The brand’s core audience of 'digital tribes' are predominately 16-24 year olds who are tech-savvy and completely depend on technology as a means of socialising. By identifying the activities that they love – film, music and sport – the brand created a framework for partnerships around these three core pillars. In this context, a stadium partnership makes perfect sense.
When it comes to selling Spurs’ new ground, however, Levy may choose to focus on brands that put awareness at the top of their strategic wishlist. Premier League football has enormous media clout, reaching huge audiences around the world, making it the perfect vehicle for a new brand or one unknown in Europe to make a mark quickly.
And in this regard, Spurs have an extra dimension to bring to the negotiating table, which talks directly to American brands or companies that want to build fame in the US.
Levy was ferocious in his pursuit of a 10-year deal to host NFL matches at the new 61,000 seater Spurs ground, opening up the club and its partners to exposure via another global sports property.
Stadia naming rights took hold in the US in the 1960s and 70s and America remains its cultural home. Being world famous as the British home of American football is a nice line, one that Daniel Levy will be sure to use in the months ahead.
Joanna Porter is managing partner, strategy and insight for HSE Cake