Highbury – a name that symbolises the fact that venerable stadiums are often no longer competitive. But after almost 100 years, a stadium can also be counted as old iron, can’t it? It is therefore only understandable that Arsenal London FC moved within the neighbourhood to the Emirates Stadium in 2006.
Highbury Stadium – pure tradition
Let’s take a look at the background and the process of this move. This review takes us back to the time before the First World War – more precisely to the year 1913, when Highbury Stadium was inaugurated as the venue of Woolwich Arsenal (the predecessor of Arsenal London FC). Of course, there have been numerous structural changes since that day. These included the conversion of the famous South Stand (Clock End) to seating. The other back-porch stand, the legendary North Bank Stand, also underwent a conversion to a comfortable two-tier seating stand in 1992. The Highbury was most recently an all-seater with a capacity of around 38,500. However, further expansion or even extensive modernisation was impossible, if only because of the confined space in a residential area.
Logo of Arsenal London FC (Source: Shutterstock)
Working name – Ashburton Grove
In order to secure the club’s (economic) competitiveness in the long term, plans were already being made in the late 1990s to build a new stadium. Arsenal FC found a site for the new stadium not far from the old venue: a former industrial site called Ashburton Grove. At this site, a competitive stadium was built for 240 million euros by the 2006/2007 season. However, the sports facility was only one component of an urban restructuring programme. The volume of the entire construction project, which also includes the conversion of the Ashburton Grove site into residential and office space as well as the entire redevelopment of Highbury, is estimated at approximately 540 million euros, including expenditure on infrastructure measures.
Ashburton Grove becomes Emirates Stadium
However, it quickly became clear that the club would not be able to finance this building project on its own, Arsenal expressed its intention early on to sell the naming rights to the new stadium: On October 5, 2004, the club finally unveiled Dubai-based Emirates Airline as the name sponsor and announced that they had agreed on a sponsorship package worth a then record 129 million euros. As a result, the 60,000-seat stadium – according to the original contract – will initially bear the name Emirates Stadium for 16 years, until the end of the 2020/2021 season.
The sponsorship agreement also included Emirates as shirt sponsor since the 2006/2007 season, replacing mobile phone provider O2. In 2012, the combined jersey and name sponsorship contract was extended in the long term (main and jersey sponsorship until 2019 and namingright of the stadium even until 2028). The total volume grew in parallel to around 185 million euros.
Exterior view of the Emirates Stadium (Source: Shutterstock)
Groundbreaking sponsorship for Arsenal
This sponsorship is by far the most significant deal in English football to date. However, Arsenal’s financial profit from the initial sponsorship is much higher than the 129 million euros mentioned. The real value of the sponsorship to the club is likely to have been in excess of 200 million euros, as Emirates‘ global route plan helped Arsenal to expand its existing fan base on other continents, opening up new merchandising markets in particular. Arsenal had by then been generating annual revenues of around 4.8 million euro from the O2 shirt sponsorship. Assuming that this amount would have remained relatively constant over the next few years, Arsenal can generate additional annual revenues of approx. 4 million euros through Emirates‘ involvement (over the entire contract period of 15 years, additional revenues of approx. 60 million euros). Thus, 12% of the total investment volume of 540 million euros can be refinanced through the sponsorship.
More than just sponsorship
Even beyond the changes in sponsorship, the move has of course contributed massively to Arsenal’s economic development. Not only did spectator numbers shoot up from around 38,000 in the 2005/2006 season to around 60,000 in the 2008/09 season. The resulting matchday revenue was also boosted by 111%. In total, the books showed an increase in revenue from £133m to £177.6m in 2 years. Although critical voices already remarked in the first months at the Emirates Stadium that not all potentials would be exploited by far, the move has shot Arsenal FC into new spheres.
Well done, Gunners!
But back to the sponsorship with Emirates: for Arsenal London FC, this is a highly commercially viable deal and Emirates Airlines has created a communications platform with international appeal. So it’s a win-win situation in which only tradition has fallen by the wayside? It could be – but it is not. Of course, it is sometimes painful for long-established Arsenal fans and lovers of the old English stadium culture that the Highbury with its characteristic art deco stands and its entrances in recessed terraced houses has disappeared from the scene after more than 90 years. But on the other hand, Arsenal have created an impressive stadium with the Emirates and have been able to save at least parts of the tradition into the new home ground.
Good tradition? Not really.
Of course, the special charm of legendary English venues such as Highbury or Fulham’s Craven Cottage is no longer present when new stadiums are built. But Arsenal have created an impressive stadium with the Emirates and have at least been able to save some of the tradition for the new home ground. Well done, Gunners!
More information about the Emirates Stadium can be found at arsenal.com.