Old Trafford aerial view

Old Trafford Naming Rights Could Be Sold for the First Time in More Than a Century

February 19, 1910: That was the day that Old Trafford hosted its first ever football match. Somewhat ironically, it as a thrilling 3-4 victory for Liverpool – setting in motion more than a century of epic encounters between Manchester United and their Merseyside rivals.

Football has changed beyond all recognition since, but some things have remained the same – not least that Old Trafford has remained the home of United throughout, with no temptation to move to a new ground or rename their current stadium to make a quick buck from a commercial partner. However, after 114 years, that could all be about to change.

What’s in a Name?

Manchester United Old Trafford Stadium
The Old Trafford, home of Manchester United (Credit: moomusician / bigstock)

Many other big clubs around the world have already cashed in on the temptation to sell the naming rights to their stadium. Think about Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium. It’s not a particularly catchy name and you might agree that the original moniker (The City of Manchester Stadium) is much better. But that doesn’t really matter: all the club is interested in is banking a nice payday courtesy of their sponsor, Etihad Airways.

In the modern era, selling the naming rights also helps to offset losses when it comes to satisfying Financial Fair Play regulations and Profit & Sustainability Rules – such commercial revenue acts as a balancer against transfer fees paid out, player wages and so on.

There is something of a dilemma at play for football clubs: will they retain the traditional roots (and name) of their home stadium, or will they sell up to the highest bidder in order to secure a competitive advantage on the pitch? For so long, City’s Manchester rivals United have resisted any change – knowing how important the history and heritage of the Old Trafford name. But the club’s new part-owner, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, seemingly has other ideas.

Wembley of the North

The Ineos founder has some bold plans for United. He wants to turn them back into a powerhouse of English football, for starters, but to do so he knows that significant investment is needed in their playing squad – an in-flow that will need to be generated via off-field income. Hence Ratcliffe’s idea of naming Old Trafford after a commercial partner – a move that would generate hundreds of millions in revenue.

Unsurprisingly, a large proportion of Manchester United fans are in uproar about the proposal – they want to see the club’s heritage upheld. But Ratcliffe has insinuated that its renaming and renovating Old Trafford or building a new stadium altogether… there is no alternative. He wants to create the ‘Wembley of the North’.

As is the case with most things that are 114 years old, some repair work is needed at Old Trafford – the famously leaky roof, which was showcased during May’s defeat to Arsenal, is at the top of the to-do list.

United have two options. They can sell the naming rights to a commercial partner – their current list of associated brands includes Chevrolet, DHL, Snapdragon, Visit Malta and Malaysia Airlines, or keep the Old Trafford name and bring a ‘partnered by’ company on board; similar to the current hook-up between Wembley Stadium and EE. Given that Ratcliffe has costed repair work at Old Trafford in the region of £1 billion, whoever comes on board is going to need considerably deep pockets.

Following the Herd

Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City (Credit: zigres / bigstockphoto)

There is no obvious link between selling the naming rights of your stadium and success on the pitch, other than reinvesting the commercial revenue generated into new players. But the two most successful clubs in England over the past couple of years, Manchester City and Arsenal, have already sold their stadium names to the highest bidder. City’s Etihad Stadium has been joined at the top of the Premier League table by Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, named after the airline in a sponsorship deal that banks the Gunners £50 million per season.

Leicester City had a sponsorship agreement in place with local snack firm Walker’s for many years, but when the club was acquired by Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha the Foxes’ home ground was renamed the King Power stadium – King Power being the travel company in Thailand that Srivaddhanaprabha, before his untimely death in 2018, was the CEO of.

One of the first clubs in England to effectively sell the naming rights to their stadium was Stoke City. The Potteries outfit is owned by the Coates family, who have made their billions as proprietors of the famous gambling brand in Stoke. As the majority shareholders, they have carte blanche to make any such decisions – so, in 2016, there was no great surprise when Stoke’s Britannia Stadium was renamed as the bet365 Stadium.

The selling of naming rights is commonplace in many parts of Europe, with some of the continent’s biggest clubs adding the name of a major sponsor to their stadium’s name. Atletico Madrid’s Metropolitano Stadium, for example, has since had the Wanda prefix added – the Wanda Group being a Chinese conglomerate that chucked Atleti a few quid for the privilege. Many football fans around the world know Borussia Dortmund’s home ground as Westfalenstadion, however the German outfit have since updated the name to Signal Iduna Park in deference to their financial services’ sponsor.

Some naming rights deals have easily entered the lexicon of the average football fan – the Allianz Arena and Red Bull Arena are now accepted as the stadium names of Bayern Munich and Red Bull Leipzig, respectively, which is exactly what the companies behind them were hoping for.

But such moves aren’t always a commercial success. Barcelona’s Camp Nou home has been rebranded as the Spotify Camp Nou as part of a sponsorship deal penned in 2022, but the average football fan isn’t even aware of the streaming service’s connection to the Catalan club. And, to make matters worse, the Camp Nou was closed for the entire 2023/24 season due to renovation work!