Renaming Ibrox: A German Alternative
- 22 January 2013
It has been a taboo subject among the Rangers supporters for some time – but now it seems to have categorically split the fanbase into respective camps.
The Rangers Chief Executive is approaching an important cross-road in preserving his positive reputation amongst the Light Blues support. The Yorkshire businessman has actively looked to sell the club’s naming rights, with Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct reportedly set to purchase the Ibrox name.
A recent announcement by Charles Green was interrupted by the Union Bears who vociferously protested against the renaming of the stadium. In other areas of the stadium, fans have not been hesitant to express their opposition to the idea which has been reportedly set to bring Rangers a six-figure sum.
Ibrox Stadium – as well as St James’ Park - is an example of traditional venues being re-named under investment from sponsors. Normally, naming rights are awarded in the planning for a completely new venue.
The Bundesliga’s most modern stadium is the 30,000-seater Coface Arena in Mainz, completed in 2011, which saw an end to an 83-year relationship between the Carnival Club and the ‘Stadium am Bruchweg’.
As Mainz’s Chief Financial Officer Christopher Blümlein explains, the change to a purpose-built arena was a milestone in their remarkable rise to consolidating their place in the German top-flight – but the financial supremo admits there was no backlash due to the fact it was a completely different stadium.
‘Whenever you build a new stadium, it is very easy to give the stadium a new name.’ He explained.
‘Ours was not a reconstruction, it was a totally new venue and before we planned the stadium, we had our sponsor who wanted to give the massive news. From the first day of the public discussion, we are not talking about a stadium – but the Coface Arena.
‘You would never be able to change the name without a huge discussion, like you might have in Glasgow now. When you have a traditional name, you always need to have a big discussion.’
Blümlein accepted that the renaming of Ibrox Stadium is a different situation to that of FSV Mainz 05. The club’s relationship with Coface is vital to maintaining the stadium with the trade specialists paying half of the rent for Mainz’s new home.
Fellow Bundesliga side, Hamburg SV, have leased their stadium name to a variety of companies, from AOL, to HSH Nordbank and currently Imtech. Affectionately, though, the ground is still known as the Volksparkstadion, which is the area surrounding the home of the Red Shorts.
Similarly, in Dortmund, the 82,500 capacity Signal Iduna Park is referred to as the Westfalenstadion by the Borussia legions.
One club, completely opposed to the complete renaming of their stadium is 1.FC Kaiserslautern – now in the 2.Bundesliga. The Red Devils have sought to protect the name of their stadium which is an honour to Fritz Walter, a legendery German footballer that inspired a country recovering from the Second World War to win the FIFA World Cup in 1954. The late Walter played almost 400 times for Kaiserslautern in his career.
The supporters voted to rename their stadium – fondly known as the Betzenberg because of the neighbouring area – in 1982 after the 61-time German internationalist. Whilst many other Bundesliga clubs have decided to lease stadium naming rights to sponsors, Kaiserslautern ardently maintained their traditional name over recent decades.
‘It simply isn’t possible to rename it without having a big confrontation with the fans.’ Christian Gruber, the club’s spokesperson, explained.
He continued: ‘Fritz Walter is one of the greatest players ever and he is an icon in Kaiserslautern. Our idea is there is that if someone wants to buy the naming rights, we don’t sell the name, but we sell the saving of the stadium name. For example, the “Fritz-Walter Stadion powered by company X or Y”.’
‘We have a very traditional fan-base, our supporters believe in Walter and many of the characteristics that he stands for. He was a loyal player. He never left Kaiserslatuern and even though he had the opportunity to join Real Madrid, he decided to stay here because he said “it was the world’s greatest club”.
‘When the stadium was re-named, he was the one who said it was not necessary. He was so polite and humble in the way he thought about himself. Now, we say it isn’t possible to sell this name because of all the stuff he did for us.’
‘You have to try to gain as much money as possible so you are able to compete with the other clubs. For us, though, we simply can’t change the name.’
Generating essential revenue is the objective, although, there is undoubtedly other avenues to make up the possible growth if stadium naming rights are leased. As Kaiserslautern have indicated, their aim is to find businessmen, or companies, who will match the asking valuation in order to preserve the stadium name.
It is an interesting and refreshing alternative which is feasible if you find like-minded entrepreneurs capable of stumping up the required cash - perhaps in a joint co-operation with supporters groups – who see tradition as a vital brick in the structure of the club.
Some fans may have a point: if you sell the name of Ibrox, what other lengths will the club go to maximise revenue?
Others are content with the idea to generate extra income and believe Ibrox will be known as it is, regardless. The aforementioned examples from Hamburg and Dortmund, in addition to Newcastle United, would suggest that theory is correct.
But rather than appease those controlling the bank balance, this is an opportunity for an innovative and creative plan to find the balance between maximising revenue streams and maintaining an important cornerstone of Rangers FC’s history.
Preserving tradition is a dying feature in modern football – including Rangers when you consider the importance of footballing excellence and the right characteristics to be a ‘Ranger’ – and the alteration of the stadium name might just be another feature lost in the club’s history.
Whatever the eventual decision may be – an open, democratic discussion is imperative.
Ross Dunbar is a freelance football writer from Glasgow and features on the WATP Podcast. He has written about Rangers' tours in North America and the Soviet Union on his blog (http://semperparatusblog.wordpress.com). You can find his work regularly on MirrorFootball, STV Sport, and others. He is on Twitter @rossdunbar93.