Committed to PEOPLE'S RIGHT TO KNOW
Vol. 5 Num 694 Sat. May 13, 2006  
   
Sports


The stadium name game


Ask anyone in this northern German city how to get to the AOL Arena and they'll gladly point the way.

Just get on the subway, take it to the Stellingen stop and walk through the leafy Volkspark until you see the massive blue letters atop the modern stadium. It's hard to miss -- but not for long

The stadium, which has carried the name of the online provider after it signed a deal with the soccer club Hamburger SV in 2004, will soon shed its moniker. From June 9 to July 9, it will officially be known as World Cup Stadium Hamburg.

The reason is simple. FIFA, which oversees the World Cup, holds a strict line on corporate sponsorships and advertising deals, letting only those who pay play.

Among the 12 German stadiums that are hosting games in the 32-team tournament this summer, several will lose their official names because they aren't official sponsors. In Frankfurt, Commerzbank Arena is out. In Munich, the futuristic, almost bubble-looking Allianz Arena will be known as the giant spaceship.

AOL, Commerzbank AG and insurer Allianz AG aren't sponsors of the World Cup. So, despite having paid millions to put their names up on stadiums, there's nothing they can do about it.

FIFA signed agreements worth more than 888 million dollars with 15 international partners and six national sponsors, giving those companies exclusive rights to pitch their products in the stadiums. The companies range from automotive supplier Continental AG and car maker Hyundai to Coca-Cola and McDonald's.

Sepp Blatter, FIFA's president, is unapologetic.

"We are obligated towards our partners," he has said.

FIFA has even gone so far as to prohibit the appearance of the logos and advertising of non-sponsors within a kilometer of the 12 stadiums.

"In the leases, it has been clearly determined that the rented sites must be clean of advertising when they are handed over," Gregor Lentze, managing director of FIFA Marketing and TV Germany, told Horizont Sport Business.

FIFA protects its properties, copyrighting and trademarking multiple variations of the World Cup logos and marks. Since the beginning of the year, FIFA has filed hundreds of copyright violation requests with German courts.

HSV stadium manager Kurt Kraegel said the club tried to simply hide the 20-foot-high letters that overlook the entrance, but that plan was nixed.

Instead, FIFA asked they be removed completely, which the club did last week at a cost of $250,000 -- a fee the club must pay.

Hamburg's stadium "AOL Arena" seen at night before the German first division soccer match between Hamburger SV and MSV Duisburg at the AOL Arena in Hamburg, northern Germany, in this Nov. 20, 2005 photo. Ask anyone in this northern German city how to get to the AOL Arena and he'll gladly point the way. But the stadium, which has carried the name of the online provider since 2004, won't go by that name during the World Cup. The reason is simple. FIFA, which oversees the quadrennial competition, holds a strict line on corporate sponsorships and advertising deals, letting only those who pay play.

"We didn't realize it would be so cost-intensive," Kraegel said.

Come the end of the World Cup, the letters will go back up because AOL's contract runs through July 2007.

In Munich, workers removed the giant letters at a cost of $190,000 to meet the FIFA regulations. During the tournament, the Allianz letters will be on the roof of a museum that is hosting an exhibit by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, the Swiss architects who designed the arena.

Other stadiums losing their names include Hanover's AWD Arena, Cologne's RheinEnergie Stadium and Dortmund's Signal Iduna Park. Berlin's Olympiastadion will stay unchanged, as will Nuremberg's Frankenstadion and Kaiserslautern's Fritz Walter Stadion.

Beate Schlosser, a spokeswoman for the Frankfurt-based Commerzbank, said the company was not distressed by the loss of its corporate name on the stadium in Frankfurt, if only for a month.

"That's something we knew about when we signed the contract," she said of the 2005 deal.