What does the naming of the Pierre Mauroy Stadium into the Decathlon Arena means?
It is official this time. On Friday June 24th, elected representatives of the European Metropolis of Lille voted for the new name of the Pierre Mauroy Stadium. For the next five years, the Decathlon brand acquired naming rights of the stadium for the mere price of 1.2 million euros a year, now officially appearing next to Pierre Mauroy’s name. This practice, called naming, has largely increased in recent years, with numerous examples in France and all over the world: Accor Arena (Paris), Allianz Arena (Munich) and its little sister Allianz Rivera (Nice), Groupama Stadium (Lyon), Orange Vélodrome (Marseille), and on top of that Spotify Camp Nou (Barcelona) – even though the FC Barcelona had long refused their football jersey to be branded.
Naming allows these infrastructures to supplement their budget, their budget balance being often delicate. However, it also turned sports into a true commercial domain. From now on, stadiums, competitions (Ligue 1 Uber Eats) and even teams (Red Bull Leipzig) can carry the name of companies. Who and how far? The mythical Staples Center, stadium of the famous Los Angeles Lakers, has just been rebranded to “Crypto.com Arena”, named after a cryptocurrency trading website. This deal, worth 700 million dollars over twenty years, is six times bigger than the agreement signed in 1999 with Staples, an office supplies store. Such an expensive deal reflected the exponential growth of cryptocurrencies, before their sudden decline of the past few weeks.
The stakes are extremely clear: naming allows corporations to be linked to highly publicized events, traditionally associated with positive feelings. For Decathlon, this is part of a true change in their brand strategy, as the brand had mainly been targeting amateur athletes. With the 2024 Paris’ Olympics and Paralympics quickly approaching, their strategy now includes a heightened focus on professional sports. The naming contracts are a significant part of this strategy, notably with the sponsorship of several olympic athletes, including twice gold medals winner Teddy Riner. Furthermore, Decathlon’s partnership with the Pierre Mauroy Arena – which will host many Olympic events – is particularly meaningful. Indeed, the brand (and most companies from the Mulliez group) are widely associated to northern France, native region of former Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy.
It is harder to pinpoint what the appeal is for the Metropolis. Even though Decathlon is France’s favorite company, the contract solely consists in a 1.2 million euros compensation per year, barely 0,06% of the Metropolis budget – which amounts to almost 2 billion euros per year. Before the opening of the new stadium in 2008, the metropolis was asking for more than 3 million euros per year, as well as a minimum of 2 million euros during a call for tenders in 2019. The metropolis ended up accepting an amount three times lower. Even if it is expected that Pierre Mauroy’s name will remain in the official denomination, the former Prime Minister and mayor of Lille for 28 years will from now have to compose with a brand name.
Without a doubt, the European Metropolis of Lille wanted to limit the financial loss of the stadium. Indeed, while created in order to welcome big athletic and cultural events, the stadium had a limited success in hosting such events. But naming cannot guarantee the proper functioning of such a structure. In France, the first naming contract was signed between the insurance company MMA and the stadium of Le Mans, for one million euros per year over a ten year period. Regardless of the deal, the MMArena did not manage to welcome the big cultural events it expected. Furthermore, right after the inauguration, the MMArena even had to face the judicial liquidation of Le Mans’ football team, whose participation to Ligue 1 was one of the keys to finance the stadium and the main reason of the sponsorship.
Even if they did not fathom that it would cause such a disaster for their team, PSG and Manchester United supporters have long been opposed to the numerous naming projects for their stadium. Besides financial considerations, they also have a particularly strong attachment to their town’s history and the legacy of their team. In Bordeaux, supporters from the local rugby team (Union Bordeaux Bègles, or UBB), had vehemently expressed their disapproval toward the project to rename the Chaban-Delmas stadium, named after another Prime minister. Like Pierre Mauroy, Chaban-Delmas had been mayor of the city for several decades. At the moment, the project has been abandoned. But for how long, with stakes this big? The financial constraints weighing on their managers are too strong, and the attractiveness of event sites is too high.