EXCLUSIVE: Renaming Ibrox can work .... but a sensitive sponsor helps

SELLING the naming rights to Ibrox can be a huge success for Rangers – despite fierce opposition to the move by diehard fans.

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Hamburg sold naming rights to the Volksparkstadion in 2001
Hamburg sold naming rights to the Volksparkstadion in 2001

However, Light Blues powerbrokers must be careful to handle the situation sensitively or they will face a supporters' revolt.

That was the message to the Glasgow giants today from the man who was involved an identical situation in Germany.

Carsten Cramer helped Hamburger SV become the first Bundesliga club to take the contentious step back in 2001.

Cramer now works as marketing director at Borussia Dortmund where he helps to manage their bumper €21million stadium sponsorship deal.

So, he is well placed to offer an insight into how selling the naming rights to a ground can benefit a club – and why the arrangement can also fail.

"I previously worked for Sportfive, an international sports marketing agency, and helped sell the first naming rights to a stadium in Germany," said Cramer.

"Hamburg became the first Bundesliga club to make the move back in 2001. The Volksparkstadion became the AOL Arena.

"After that, more and more German clubs did the same thing. There are 18 clubs in the Bundesliga and most of them, the vast majority, have sponsors for their stadiums.

"But if the brand doesn't fit the club, if the arrangement is not handled correctly, then supporters will not accept it. Sometimes in this area you find that less can be more."

Rangers are set to sell the naming rights to Ibrox for the first time ever after chief executive Charles Green met with supporters' representatives last week.

Sports Direct, who already have a commercial tie-up with the club to sell their merchandise, are strong favourites to win the multi-million pound contract.

Many fans are vehemently against renaming a historic stadium which Rangers moved into way back in 1899 – despite the significant financial benefits it will bring.

Cramer believes some resistance to the move is inevitable – but is insistent that Rangers can still flourish as a result of the deal.

"What is important here is the history of the stadium and the history of the name," he explained.

"If the stadium is named after a former player, as is the case with Kaiserslautern (the Fritz Walter Stadion is named after the former Germany captain), then you can never change it.

"This is the highest degree of emotional attachment supporters can have to a stadium name. But if the stadium is named after the area it is built in, as Ibrox is, then this is not an issue.

"The Westfalenstadion took its name from the geographical area (the former Prussian province of Westphalia) it was located in."

Cramer continued: "Dortmund had some success at the Westfalenstadion. We became champions of Germany four times there.

"Now the stadium is called the Signal Iduna Park we don't ignore the Westfalenstadion and our sponsors have no problems with that. You have to accept the history of the stadium and don't make the mistake of ignoring that.

"The hard core supporters still don't like it. The hard core supporters do have their problems with a name like that. But, at the same time, they don't really complain about it.

"Yes, they talk about the Westfalenstadion. They love the former name. But they don't attack the new name or punish Signal Iduna for their involvement."

The fact that Borussia Dortmund were on the verge of going out of business when the deal with Signal Iduna was struck in 2006 undoubtedly helped sway many sceptics.

"To be honest, we were in a very worrying situation," recalled Cramer. "We were in financial trouble and we needed somebody to pay for the naming rights to the stadium.

"We were very nearly bankrupt. For that reason, the acceptance of the move was higher. The deal was very important for the restructuring of the financial situation or Borussia Dortmund."

Having experienced serious financial difficulties in the last year and been forced to restart in the Third Division there are, then, interesting parallels with the current situation with Rangers.

Still, Cramer warns that the agreement should not give the sponsors a free rein to take over the stadium and the club – and stresses that would result in a supporters' backlash.

He remarked: "Signal Iduna have a different colour code to the club. Their corporate colours are blue, white and black. But the stadium is still more black and yellow.

"Again, they accept this. They don't make the mistake of trying to take over the image of the club. They accepted there was already a strong brand in Borussia Dortmund.

"They had to accept that the tougher brand, if you like, was Borussia Dortmund."

Dortmund have gone from strength to strength since teaming up with Signal Iduna; they have been crowned German champions two years running and are in the last 16 of the Champions League.

"Things aren't that bad right now!" said Cramer.

"We signed a contract with Signal Iduna at a time when we were placed between eighth and 12th in the league and were in financial trouble.

"They believed in us and our plans for the future. It is now one of our three main sponsorship agreements along with our shirt sponsor Evonic and our kit supplier Puma.

"It is a win-win situation for everyone."

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