You have probably heard the news by now. 23 years after it opened, the Madejski Stadium is being renamed: for the next decade it will be known as the Select Car Leasing Stadium.
“Eugh…..” I can hear you cry, or some other variation of revulsion. Part of me wants to agree with you. In a simpler world, no one would choose for the stadium to be renamed. The Madejski Stadium is an ode to the man whose millions built the place. A man who quite literally kept the club afloat.
Perhaps there is a certain irony then that this sponsorship deal acts as a buoyancy aid as the club finds itself in troubled waters again, but the reality is stark. For the last few years, Reading have been losing money at a faster rate than most other clubs in the Football League and posted a £42m loss in their latest set of financial accounts. This summer’s transfer embargo for breaching profit and sustainability rules has reinforced the tricky predicament.
Receiving sponsorship for the stadium continues the club’s work in becoming a more cost-effective entity, and it is first and foremost a business decision. The club make no secret of that fact, stating: “this stadium sponsorship comes at a time when financial accountability and self-sustaining revenue generation is more important than ever within football”. That alone should be enough to justify the agreement to rename the stadium; if it helps the club financially during a difficult economic period, it has to be a good thing.
But this is football, and there are fans to appease as well as balance sheets. The essence of the sponsorship needs to sit right and the messaging has to be spot on. It is in these departments that the club, and Select Car Leasing, have excelled.
The official press release states that “while there has always been the potential to secure similar stadium branding agreements with other organisations, it remained imperative to the us that a partner with an affinity to the club, its supporters and the town was chosen”. This implies there have been opportunities to rename the stadium in the past, but that prospective sponsors have never been the right fit.
It may have been very easy for investment to be gained from overseas and rename the ground with nothing but pound signs in mind. Just imagine the Renhe Holdings Stadium or the Casumo Arena. To highlight how deals can go horribly wrong, it was only last month that Norwich City cancelled their shirt sponsorship with obscure Asian gambling company BK8 after just three days when it was revealed the site had been using highly sexualised images of young women in social media promotions.
“It’s a dream come true, when we started the company 15 years ago, we used to joke that one day we’ll be on the front of those shirts and here we are!”
— Reading FC (@ReadingFC) July 16, 2021
In Select Car Leasing, who will also adorn the front of the team’s shirts for the next five years, the club have got as close to the perfect sponsor as they can get. There are instant parallels with Sir John Madejski’s Autotrader, aside from the motoring connection. A Reading-based business that employs almost 300 local people, Select Car Leasing’s head office on Imperial Way is less than a mile from the stadium. The company’s founders and owners, James O’Malley and Mark Tongue, are lifelong fans and current season ticket holders. The company is a supporter of several charities, including the Community Action Ark Project in Reading. The sense of local spirit and community has weakened in RG2 in recent years, but this sponsorship deal ensures this element of the club’s identity is upheld.
O’Malley and Tongue understand the club, its history and values. They spoke to Sir John before agreeing to sponsor the stadium, and will keep his name in fan consciousness by naming the East Stand after him. In their words “we could never take the place of Sir John and what he’s done over the years”. It won’t matter to some, but for many, these sentiments and little touches carry a lot of weight and provide reassurance that this sponsorship is being carried out in the highest possible faith. It’s not often that that happens in the murky world of commercialism.
I personally love this. The fact that the naming rights of the stadium and the main front sponsor of the shirts is owned by a local business who are Reading fans is massive. Could easily gone to foreign investors but no. This is what Reading FC has been about for years
— Simon Cox (@SCoxy31Real) July 16, 2021
It shouldn’t need saying, but there is nothing stopping you from still referring to the ground as the Madejski Stadium. In fact, most people probably will, not least because ‘the Mad Stad’ rolls off the tongue easier. I doubt there is a Birmingham City fan who refers to their ground as ‘St. Andrew’s Trillion Trophy Stadium’ or a Bradford City supporter who says ‘The Utilita Energy Stadium’.
So here’s to 10 years of calling the stadium what you want. More importantly, here’s to 10 years of a club that is sustainable, morally conscious and community-focused. The way Reading Football Club should be.