On Friday 8th July, Manchester City announced a huge sponsorship deal with Etihad Airways. The City of Manchester Stadium will be renamed as The Etihad Stadium, after signing a deal worth ‘several hundred million pounds’. The 10-year agreement is the most expensive football sponsorship deal ever and includes naming rights to the stadium and redevelopment of the surrounding campus, which is set to include a new training ground for the Blues. The airline will also extend its shirt sponsorship as part of the deal.

City Of Manchester Stadium will soon be called The Etihad Stadium.

This is not just a deal about a stadium though, or a deal just about a football club. The huge sums involved are not a simple ploy to beat the Financial Fair Play rules, but part of a plan to regenerate one of the poorest areas of Manchester, and create one of the premier sporting complexes in the world. The club said the newly-named Etihad Stadium would form the “centrepiece” of an Etihad Campus, where two million visitors are expected each year following City’s qualification for the Champions League.

City and Etihad will also partner on youth and community projects both locally, throughout Britain, and internationally. There will be a new youth training and football development complex. Community football pitches will be built, and national teams for sports such as basketball, badminton and taekwondo could join the cycling squad (and the BMX arena!), as part of plans to turn Alan Turing Way into a ‘corridor of Olympians’. National standard sporting facilities would be provided, in addition to a swimming pool for the community and a sixth form college for local school leavers.

City recently struck a deal with town hall bosses to sell the rights to the council-owned stadium, which was built for the Commonwealth Games in 2002. The club moved there from Maine Road in 2003, signing a 250-year agreement which saw a percentage of match-day income paid to the council. City spent £20m turning the stadium into a football ground (adding an extra tier amongst other things), and handed over the Maine Road site to the town hall, now the scene, predictably, of a housing estate.

As of last year, City also agreed to hand over a set amount to the council from ticket sales (it used to be a percentage of attendance over the old Maine Road capacity – i.e. 34,000). It has been reported that the council will also benefit from the naming rights deal, to the tune of £20m – a welcome boost to the council that has had to make the biggest of all cuts in the country – over a £100m. This is clearly a good deal for all – the club, the council and most of all, east Manchester. And what’s more, greater the sponsorship deals that City can clinch, lesser will be the impact on the fans, with the season ticket prices remaining affordable and competitive for a longer period.

But predictably, not everyone is happy. A few journalists have raised their eyebrows at the size of the deal, seemingly failing to understand the scope of what is being planned here. One journalist was very critical about the deal; he lamented that football had lost a bit more of its soul. He failed to comprehend that re-naming an eight year old stadium that didn’t really have a set name anyway was not really something to cry over. If it had been Maine Road that was re-named, there would have been huge opposition from City fans, and understandably so. But it isn’t, and a new name on a virtually new stadium is not a big deal. If it is acceptable for Arsenal to do it, or Wigan, or Bolton, or Chesterfield or Bayern Munich, without a huge outcry, then there can be no complaints when City do the same. There is no heritage being loss, and there is no soul being sucked out of the game. Football has been about money ever since the top league was renamed in 1992, so it seems strange that this fact has only just dawned on a few of Fleet Street’s finest.

Others moaned simply about the size of the deal. Under the Financial Fair Play Rules, any deal a club makes has to be inline with UEFA’s vague definition of what constitutes “market value”. Arsenal sold the rights to their ground to the Emirates airline in 2006. The Gunners netted £100m in a 15-year deal which also included shirt sponsorship. Many have pointed to this deal as a sign that City’s deal has been artificially inflated, as it was with an UAE company. But as has been detailed already, this deal goes way beyond the scope of the Arsenal deal – it involves regenration of a whole area. And as dreary articles soon appeared about UEFA would investigate the deal, it is laughable to think that City’s owners and the likes of Garry Cook did not do their homework before sealing this deal. They certainly did.

We have a very open dialogue with UEFA,” said Cook. “We have had several meetings with UEFA about our plans and they are very supportive of Manchester City’s ambition. There are many football clubs who have the backdrop of regulation that is being placed into the world of football.We are no different to any other football club.

Funny then that no one wants to mention the deal Juventus signed a good six years ago. The agreement with Tamoil involved an initial sum of €110 million, to cover the period between July 2005 and July 2010, in exchange for which the Libya-based oil company will receive exclusive shirt sponsorship rights. A further €130 million was agreed to cover the following 5 years, making the deal worth a total of €240 million.

It was once more left to another journalist to point out that the deal was fair, and UEFA’s idea of market values and benchmarks was laughable. But it should be pointed out this sponsorship deal was not devised simply to get round the rules of Platini and friends. City’s owners were intent on regeneration the day they took over the club. It would have happened anyway, and is part of their commitment to go beyond the playing area, beyond the stadium. Before criticising the classless dealings of moneybags Manchester City, it might be beneficial to consider which other club has done this much for the local community.

UEFA cannot block the deal of course. All they can do is only use some of the income when calculating yearly revenues for the club. But they cannot define a market value for a deal that has never been done before, and thus for which there is no market value and no benchmark to compare with. City are doing what is necessary to compete at the highest level and smash the existing status quo of European football. Exciting times lie ahead for the team, the fans, and for the local community.


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