Earlier this month, Spurs began the process of securing sponsorship for the new stadium. The deals struck in this phase will form a key pillar of the project’s funding strategy, and also come to define how fans see and discuss the team’s new home when it opens before the 2018/19 season.
Per reports, the club, or those acting on behalf of the club, will be approaching around 300 entities ranging from multinational corporations to government investment funds in the course of the tender.
The figures being talked about vary from report to report. While the Standard stated the club was seeking £400 million over an unspecified period, The Times reported that the club was scaling back its ambitions and was seeking £150 million for the core naming rights over ten years.
These wildly divergent figures can be confusing, and in this post I want to clarify where things currently stand. Spurs going to market has created plenty of chatter, and we can expect more stories in the weeks to come.
The key agreement will be for the naming rights to the stadium, and this will attract most of the headlines. But in addition, there are a myriad of other sponsorship possibilities available, ranging from ticket booths to corporate suites and fun elements of the project like the Sky Walk.
These will have, in the most part, been designed into the stadium by the club and the architects, Populous. This graphic by Adweek on the Levi’s Stadium in San Jose, home to the NFL’s 49ers, shows how it can be done.
Obviously, excessive commercialisation will appear tacky, but I think most fans can accept the need for at least some sponsorship. Ultimately, £675m-£750 million will have to be found from somewhere, and you can pick your poison — whether that be naming rights, public funds, selling players, high ticket prices, massive debt or ownership largesse.
The club has made clear, from the outset, that it will seek a naming rights sponsor. However, in its financial modelling for the project, this will have been one of the hardest aspects to gauge. Simply put, there are few comparable projects which means establishing a “market” value will be hard.
The Standard report referenced Manchester City’s £400m, 10-year deal with Etihad as the ambition for Spurs, but this is wildly optimistic. The Etihad deal was part of a concerted, and unsuccesful, effort to dodge Financial Fair Play regulations, and did not in any way reflect the market value of the rights to the old City of Manchester stadium.
More relevant to Spurs is Arsenal’s deal with Emirates. Under a 2012 agreement, Arsenal received £150 million from the airline, which covered shirt sponsorship until 2018/19 and naming rights sponsorship until 2028. This was an increase of the initial Emirates deal from 2004, which earned Arsenal £90 million, split again between a shorter-term shirt agreement and longer-term naming rights deal. The Guardian estimated the naming rights in this agreement at just £2.4 million per year.
If Manchester City’s deal is inflated, Arsenal’s is widely seen as undervalued. I’d add, we’ve gone through a spike in shirt sponsorship in recent years which makes the Emirates deal look poor for Arsenal, but it probably wasn’t so bad when it was signed.
After Arsenal and Manchester City, there are few comparisons in the UK. A sponsorship agreement has not yet been reached for the Olympic Stadium, while Chelsea are still mired in the planning process for their new stadium. Liverpool failed to secure a sponsor for the new stand at Anfield — but it was only a stand, not the whole naming rights package.
Generally you have to look across the Atlantic for other potential comparisons. Here are the top 10 naming rights deals for US stadia. The data is from Forbes, and I’ve added the annual value.
As you can see, there is nothing that comes close to the £40m per year that Manchester City have from Etihad, while only two deals break the annual $20m mark.
But the comparison only goes so far. If you look at the sponsors, most are companies or brands with a local connection — eg U.S. Bank in Minnesota. This reflects the introspective nature of US sport — the NFL and MLB don’t have nearly the same global audience as the Premier League.
And while we’re on the subject of the NFL, Spurs are in unchartered territory by building the first combined Premier League/NFL stadium. Spurs will, I’m sure, leverage this in its negotiations and it will enable the club to pitch the stadium as a truly global offering. But what is it really worth? Spurs will be offering just two games a year initially and no clear connection to an NFL franchise, which may limit the extent to which Spurs can monetize this aspect.
Ultimately, there are few good comparisons for what Spurs are offering, meaning it is hard to estimate what a “fair” market price would be. There may be a company out there that sees the stadium as a perfect vehicle for its global ambitions, but there may not be. If not, Spurs will be forced to readjust. There are no guarantees, no matter what the marketing gurus — a ceaselessly optimistic species — claim.
The piece in The Times by Matt Hughes hinted that a degree of realism was starting to sink in, with the initial £25 million per year target being reduced to £15 million. No doubt, this would be somewhat disappointing to the club, but as I’ve said previously, this will have been a hard part of the funding strategy to model.
(For what it’s worth, I would expect Spurs to borrow against future naming rights income — this will enable more money to be piled into the project through the construction phase, at a cost of commercial revenues received later on. Likewise for “debentures” — long-term options for corporate seats and even ordinary season tickets, an approach also used by Arsenal when funding the Emirates. We’ll have to wait for future accounts to know if this has actually taken place or not, but it isn’t unreasonable to speculate here.)
In the Viability Report for the scheme, Spurs identified the amount of additional commercial income expected from the stadium as being approximately £30m.
“Key drivers of commercial revenue growth in the new stadium are expected to be stadium and cornerstone naming rights, and income in respect of increased merchandising and conference events, which together will give annual incremental income of approximately £30 million per year.”
Ultimately, Spurs will be looking to land a naming rights package that is greater than that achieved by Arsenal. A £15 million per year package would put Spurs in the right sort of territory, with a further £15 million per year to be raised from other sponsorship opportunities and an increase in stadium-related commercial activities in order to hit that £30 million target. It seems feasible to me.
While it may be disappointing not to smash through the £20 million mark, we’ve shown in recent days that we have other ways of setting records. Certainly, any potential sponsors watching on Wednesday night will have been left in no doubt about the potential Spurs have as a club and partner.
A couple of other points by way of post-script.
Whenever the subject of naming rights comes up on my Twitter timeline, I get someone saying “Duh, it’s already agreed with Nike”. There was some ITK to that effect a while ago, and it has stuck. The news last week that the rights have just gone to tender prove that this ITK was wrong. If Spurs had a naming rights deal with Nike, it wouldn’t be going to tender.
My guess is that chatter about kit supplier negotiations got confused with naming rights negotiations. Or someone just made it up.
Of course, it may end up being Nike — I’m sure they are being asked — but it would be a surprising move by the company, as it has shown little interest in being a stadium naming rights partner. It focuses on athletes and teams, not buildings. There is a Nike stadium in England already though — the John Nike athletics stadium in Bracknell.
From what I’ve read, Nike will be the next Spurs kit supplier, replacing Under Armour. But the fact that Nike immediately went out and offered Chelsea more than double what they’d just agreed to pay Spurs hardly suggests the start of a close and wide-ranging partnership. I just hope Spurs put a break clause in it and play this market far more aggressively in future. There’s no value in loyalty, and if you’re excited by what Nike will do for Spurs kit design, just look at the England shirts. Eesh.
Both The Times and the Standard reported that Qatar Sports Investments, the owners of PSG and a subsidiary of the Qatar Investment Authority, the emirate’s sovereign wealth fund, were amongst the many hundred entities being approached over sponsorship. Per The Times, these talks have “intensified” amid reports Qatar Airways may not renew its relationship with Barcelona.
This caused some disquiet among Spurs fans, to put it mildly. On my timeline, I had people complain about human rights, labour practices and Qatar’s support for terrorist organisations. Charmingly, one person countered by accusing those making reasonable criticisms of “100% zionism”. A taste of what is in store, no doubt.
As The Times pointed out in a very reasonable way (and shoddy, theft-based sites such as 101greatgoals and HITC highlighted in distasteful, garbage-click-inducing ways), there is also the question of the club’s Jewish heritage.
I won’t go into all the arguments here. If you want to read more about this subject, I’d highly recommend A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur by Martin Cloake and Alan Fisher. It offers a detailed and nuanced explanation of the club’s Jewish roots and current image as “the Jewish club”.
But three points:
First, chants of “Yid Army” in the “Qatar Airways Stadium” would appear problematic, for a variety of reasons. The club and QSI will be aware of this.
Second, Spurs will absolutely want Qatar in the conversation when negotiating with other entities as it will drive up the price. Qatar basically has a blank cheque at the moment as it prepares for the 2022 World Cup, and that’s useful to Spurs right now.
Third, I was curious about fan views on this, and did a quick Twitter poll before publishing this piece. The final result was as follows:
So out of nearly 600 votes, not a disastrous sample size, a third said they were unhappy with a Qatar Airways deal, while two thirds were either fine with it or not bothered either way. This surprised me slightly as I thought most would be against it. There were certainly some very strong opinions against Qatar, but these views weren’t the majority.
My personal view is that I’m not wild about Qatar Airways being the sponsor, and would rather someone else. But I’m also a deeply cynical person and I know that my irrational love for all things Spurs will ultimately trump my dislike for Qatar. A bit like before the Olympics when I swore I’d not watch following the IOC’s cowardly surrender to Russia over doping, and then watched every moment as Team GB’s gold rush hit full speed. I’m terrible, I know.
Who’s it gonna be?
I often get asked who I think the stadium sponsor will be. I normally reply “I have no idea”, as I don’t have any particular knowledge. But it’s a fun guessing game, so let’s play it.
I think Qatar Airways is a strong possibility, as they’ve got loads of money and surely want to keep up with their competitor Middle Eastern airlines in the global branding race.
Also high on the list will be companies in the financial services sector. Just like Nike prefer athletes and teams, banks and insurers like sponsoring solid, long-term things like stadiums. It just kinda fits the image.
You can bet that Barclays, previously the name sponsor for the Premier League and with a marketing budget that needs spending, will be getting a call. Barclays sponsors the new NBA arena in Brooklyn, and may have an interest in the NFL aspect as it seeks to develop its brand in the US.
I’m sure almost every major global insurance company will be approached too. Two major recent deals in the US — the MetLife Stadium and SunTrust Stadium — have been with insurers. Current shirt sponsors AIA may have an interest.
(German insurer Allianz had attempted to sponsor the new NFL stadium in New York several years ago, but ran into trouble with the local Jewish community due to its war-time connections with the Nazi regime. MetLife swooped in at a lower price after Allianz withdrew.)
The one other possibility that has sprung to mind is EE. The mobile network is owned by the BT Group, which is pushing aggressively into the sporting rights market and sees synergies everywhere. BT is sitting on a gold mine as it owns most of the UK’s broadband infrastructure, and has so far avoided being broken up by regulators. EE has shown interest in this sort of deal through its agreement with Wembley.
I’m throwing out names — 300 entities are being approached, so it may take some time. Ultimately, it’ll be who it’ll be.
Some of us will be OK with it, others will hate it; most of us will get used to it, others will want to keep on calling it White Hart Lane. We’re fans, we get to be like that.
For the club, the most important thing is building a new stadium, and the naming rights is a key part of ensuring that the money is in place to do that. “How much” will trump “who”, within reason.
Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.