The list of Championship fans’ moans and groans is endless. Most of those moans and groans reside, in one way or another around money. Clubs attempting to charge £30 or more for tickets, programmes going up by a £1 in order to accommodate extra pages to celebrate Harry Redknapp’s career and the financial restrains making goal line technology impractical in the division are complaints that have emanated from my TV and my Twitter feed in recent weeks.
If clubs could secure income from other sources, not just the fans, then the cost of being a supporter would fall, goal line technology might become more than just a distant pipedream and Charlton could award contracts to the (roughly) 932 players and coaching staff whose deals run out in the summer.
So why is it that when a club locates an extra funding stream, and a relatively inoffensive funding stream at that, is there a significant challenge from both the club’s supporters and fans of football in general?
Derby County’s decision to sell the naming rights to their stadium has created quite a furiory. Sport drink company iPro will pay £7,000,000 over ten years in order to see Pride Park become the iPro stadium; £700,000 per year to help meet Financial Fair Play without having to overcharge fans or sell players.
Unfortunately, one condition of becoming a football fan is that you must lose the ability to think rationally.
‘It’s a p**s take, £7 mill over 10 year it’s f**k all!’ was one response to Derby’s Twitter feed revealing the news. The deal is in fact the largest of its kind in Football League history.
Even if, like myself, Financial Fair Play means nothing more to you than a rule that means you can’t make a dramatic loss, £700,000 from a footballing perspective is huge in The Championship. £700,000 added to a yearly transfer budget could be the difference between no signings and improving the squad; or a mediocre signing and a high quality buy.
Many fans are reluctant to view a football club as anything more than a toy. It shouldn’t be able to make decisions on its own, unless those decisions are made for it by the fans. But football clubs, first and foremost, are businesses. This isn’t a new phenomenon, they always have been. They need to run like any other business would, and turning down to £7,000,000 worth of sponsorship that doesn’t alienate and isolate the customer in other business would be unthinkable.
You might think renaming Pride Park does alienate the customer but, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t think it does at all. If anything, it improves the customers’ experience.
The soul of the club, nor the ground, has died. Will Derby fans continue to call their home Pride Park? Of course they will. Who does the ‘soul’ of a ground or football club matter to most? The fans.
If Derby fans continue to call their ground Pride Park then the ‘soul’ will not be lost, no matter what name Simon Thomas on Sky Sports is forced to introduce his audience to when the Rams take on Blackpool in a live fixture next month.
In other words, everyone’s a winner. The club get a significant amount of cash to keep themselves financial stable, abiding by the rules and able to develop, whilst the fans will get the benefit from that without losing a sense of spiritual identity.
I appreciate the anger at this moment in time, but will anything be noticeably different when Derby fans take their seats at Pride Park next month and watch their club, still called Derby County, playing in the same colour kit as they did last weekend? Apart from the odd advertising hoarding and brand name dotted about the place, their experience will be identical to the one they’ve always had at Pride Park.
In fact, from a Charlton perspective, I’d welcome naming rights to The Valley being sold. It would still be The Valley, my season ticket would have a greater chance of staying at its current rate and Chris Powell’s hands might be slightly less tied. It’s bound to happen one day; it’ll happen to most stadia.
Having a brand name associated with a stadium is a small, and arguably necessary, price to pay in this world of Hull Tigers and Cardiff City playing in red. A small price that will quickly be forgotten about if the financial security it brings helps to propel the Rams back to the Premier League.