The RFU have hinted that they would sell off the naming rights to Twickenham – but what is the point? They make a bit of money but there is nothing in it for the sponsors…


The RFU are said to be the richest union in the world but anyone who has not got any change from a tenner when buying a couple of pints at Twickenham will know they are not averse to making a few extra quid.

Last week Ian Ritchie, the chief executive of the union, said that he would not be against selling the naming rights to Twickenham on the proviso that the stadium’s historic name was still involved in the title. He also explained that the RFU would be sensitive to which sponsor they would use thus denying the possibility of pitching up at Twickenham in association with Errol’s Greasy Spoon for one of England’s autumn Internationals.

But will fans change the names of the ground when they talk about them, will letters from disgusted of Tunbridge Wells flood into The Times or does no one give a monkey’s? All the available evidence nods to the latter. Amongst fans, grounds will always be known by their ‘proper’ names. So why splash the cash?

England fans

Culture change: Would fans call the stadium anything other than Twickenham? Photo: Getty Images

The re-naming of grounds around the world has largely been a waste of time for sponsors, if not for the unions who are banking the cheques. And one industry expert told Rugby World that whoever does do a deal with Ritchie & Co will be doing it with their heart rather than their head.

Jacques de Cock, a faculty member of the London School of Marketing, explained: “O2 sponsors the English RFU to the tune of £5-7m a year, this will probably increase after the Six Nations success. Assume that Twickenham would not accept anything less than £2m for naming rights as they view themselves as iconic – which they are – so it would be not a commercial but an emotional spend by a company executive.”

Chicken feed really when you consider the massive bung that Premier League football clubs get from TV, and the money coming Twickers’ way might not be enough to sign a reserve team striker at Charlton, but still a nice few quid in the bin when you haven’t got to do anything extra to earn it.

Two million notes is enough cash for unions to be interested, but will the people who actually flog to the grounds and shell out more than £100 for a day out really be telling their mates to meet them outside the statue at some no-mark insurance company-sponsored Twickers.

Don’t think so – and here is why…

Ellis Park in Johannesburg has been called Emirates Airline Park and Coca-Cola Park thus blanking out the contribution of Mr JD Ellis, a councillor who gave permission for the stadium to be built. Sorry Emirates and Coca-Cola, it was and will always be Ellis Park.

In Durban, Kings Park has variously been called the ABSA Stadium and Mr Price Kings Park Stadium and is currently Growthpoint Kings Park. Sorry, Kings Park it was and Kings Park it is.

Finn Russell

All in: BT sponsor Scotland’s shirts as well as Murrayfield. Photo: Getty Images

When I filed from BT Murrayfield after England played Scotland in February my desk lopped off the sponsor’s mention. (note to the SRU – I tried). BT lob a significant amount of cash elsewhere into the Scottish game as part of the deal – but, hey ho, Murrayfield is Murrayfield. And my guv’nor is not wrong.

In cricket, the Oval, sorry Kia Oval, has been the Brit Oval and the Foster’s Oval and Test matches in Durham and Manchester are staged at the Emirates Riverside and Emirates Old Trafford respectively. Confused?

Of course, Lord’s has resisted the trend but if Twickenham goes down the sponsorship road it will only be a matter of time.

You’ve got half a chance if you build a new ground – or sponsor a new tournament, like the Heineken Cup, which got unrivalled coverage for two reasons. Firstly, it was a brilliant European tournament; secondly, it didn’t have a former name and was the new kid on the block.

Arsenal’s ground, the Emirates, is the Emirates because it is a new ground and not on the site of the old Highbury. The naming of the Aviva Stadium in Dublin has stuck despite being on the site of the old Lansdowne Road – it is a new ground. The re-naming of the Millennium Stadium to the Principality Stadium… just got lucky.

Emirates Stadium

Name game: Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium ahead of a night game. Photo: Getty Images

As Tim Crow, CEO of Synergy, the leading sponsorship agency, says:  “It’s a much safer bet to sponsor a new stadium – think of The Emirates or The Aviva: the stadium name is the brand name, so you’re guaranteed media coverage. That’s why those type of sponsorships command such high prices. Sponsoring a stadium with a well-established name like Twickenham is cheaper, but much harder to pull off. It’s possible, but you need a very smart strategy which is not reliant on media exposure.”

That is well and good but for a bloke who has been going to Twickenham since 1980 when Bill Beaumont and Geoff Wheel where going toe-to-toe, it will always be Twickenham – whatever its name is. See you outside in the burger-chain-sponsored West Car Park is not going to cut the mustard.

The RFU really aren’t that strapped for cash. Only Twickenham will do.

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