Munster make move to sell Thomond Park naming rights
Province opted against renaming stadium during its reconstruction in 2007-08
Munster supporters may baulk at the idea of renaming Thomond Park but the windfall could assist in the province’s recruitment drive. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Munster Rugby’s decision to employ a consultant to examine the feasibility and provide direction in trying to sell the naming rights of Thomond Park will not only be a contentious issue among supporters but also a difficult remit in the current financial climate.
Evidence suggests that the ideal time to sell naming rights is during a reconstruction phase.
This was borne out when Lansdowne Road became the Aviva Stadium and when Ravenhill became the Kingspan Stadium.
Aviva won the 10-year naming rights to Lansdowne Road when it paid €47 million to the IRFU, FAI and the stadium company – it was discounted to about €35 million for an upfront lump-sum payment.
Ulster Rugby are believed to have received €6.15 million from Kingspan for a 10-year agreement.
The redevelopment of the RDS begins next summer and reports suggest that Leinster are in advanced negotiations to hammer out a deal with a sponsor.
There is, however, precedent for Munster in their current undertaking, given that they brokered a 10-year deal for an unnamed sum that saw Musgrave Park renamed Irish Independent Park in 2014.
According to industry sources, the ideal time to sell naming rights is about a year before the redevelopment is complete, making it easier to convince supporters and an easier sell to potential investors, who can appreciate the scope of the transformation from the building-site stage.
Munster Rugby do not have that luxury with Thomond Park. They did look into selling the naming rights in 2007-2008 during the construction of the new stadium, but decided against it. It was a different economic climate then.
Munster was an attractive, sought-after brand, not least because of their success on the pitch, and while they might have been able to accrue somewhere in the region €7-€8 million, they would do well to secure about half those estimates in the current climate.
It will be a difficult sell; potential sponsors will be affixing a name onto Thomond Park rather than embracing a brand new stadium.
A figure of €350,000 per annum over 10-years is perhaps the low-end threshold for any agreement and the proposition would appear more attractive for a company trying to break into the Irish market rather than an established name.
Garrett Fitzgerald said: “The issue of naming rights of Thomond Park is still very much on the agenda. I think something like that will always be an emotive issue.
“The reality of it is, that it is what is happening in every business in professional sport. You see it all over the place. We have employed and signed with a consultant to promote that in 2016.”
Supporters may be more tolerant and find the process more palatable if money generated from the renaming rights is directed towards foreign player recruitment.
An extra €350,000 per year would allow Munster to top up the IRFU funding and compete in the upper echelons of foreign recruitment, while also being in a better position financially to be able to hold on to their marquee home-grown players.
Ulster’s financial muscle on foot of the Kingspan deal has allowed them to go and recruit former All Black Charles Piutau, who arrives at the start of next season, to use one example.
Leinster may soon find themselves in a similar position if they can secure a financial windfall through the RDS naming rights.
There’s no doubt it is more difficult for Munster but if they manage it they’ll hope that the traditionalists will understand the potential trade-off in being able to bring in some of the world’s finest players to wear the red jersey.
Meanwhile, Munster have confirmed that prop James Cronin and hooker Mike Sherry have agreed contract extensions while highly regarded academy prospect David Johnston has agreed a development contract for next season and a senior one for the 2017-2018 season.
Cronin’s signature on a three-year deal is a significant coup for the province after the in-form loosehead prop was linked with a move to an Aviva Premiership club.
The 27-year-old Sherry, another key figure, has agreed a two-year deal that will take him up to June 2018.
Unfortunately, BJ Botha ruptured his ACL against Stade Francais last weekend, an injury that will see him undergo surgery in the next couple of weeks.