Chelsea target £150m deal for Stamford Bridge naming rights

New chief executive arrives with plan to raise funds and shake off club's 'brash' image
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The Independent Online

Chelsea's new chief executive, Ron Gourlay, has admitted the club are ready to sell off the naming rights to Stamford Bridge and hope to raise up to £150m.

Gourlay has only been in the job since Monday, after his predecessor, Peter Kenyon, stood down, but he is already in danger of causing uproar among the club's supporters by inviting companies to bid for the chance to rename their stadium. Chelsea hope to tie a sponsor to a 10- to 15-year deal, worth in the region of £10m a year.

The potential rebranding of Stamford Bridge recognises Chelsea cannot rely on the deep pockets of their billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich. Last year the club recorded a loss of £66m and Gourlay admitted yesterday the prospects of breaking even in the near future are slim.

Samsung, Chelsea's shirt sponsors in a £13m-a-year deal that runs until 2013, are one possible stadium partner. Another option is Etihad Airways, also Manchester City's shirt sponsors. The company currently has a three-year deal with Chelsea as the club's airline partner which runs out in May.

The ground's location on the flight path to Heathrow Airport could be a selling point if Chelsea are happy to put advertising on the roofs of their stands. Sponsors, however, may be wary of attaching their name to the ground, as it could prove immensely unpopular with fans. Newcastle supporters are to demonstrate before tomorrow's match with Peterborough in protest at owner Mike Ashley's plans to rename St James' Park.

Gourlay, 46, insisted any rebranding deal would be conditional on the 132-year-old ground retaining the name Stamford Bridge. He claimed the initiative was part of a "realistic" approach because the club have ruled out both moving to a new ground and raising the capacity above its current level of 42,055.

"We understand this is a sensitive issue for our fans and that is why we would keep Stamford Bridge in any deal," Gourlay said. "We cannot sell any more tickets as we sell out virtually every match. We need to move the business forward to support the football side This is a potentially realistic way of doing that. Retaining the heritage of the stadium is paramount but we think that is achievable."

The first ground in the UK to be named after its sponsor was the McCain Stadium in Scarborough, which was dubbed by fans the "Theatre of Chips" until it closed in 2007. In 2004 Emirates Airlines paid Arsenal £100m in a combined deal over stadium rights and shirt sponsorship that runs until 2021.

The rebranding idea is part of Gourlay's drive to increase income, as he admitted the club would not be breaking even in the near future. He said: "Is it going to happen this year? No. It won't happen soon. It's still the goal to get there. Certain things have happened along the way. I'm not going to make any claim on that front because, realistically, it ain't going to happen this year but we're not that far away."

Chelsea's new chief executive, who worked under his predecessor Kenyon at Chelsea, Manchester United and Umbro, wants to end the club's image of being brash and arrogant. He promised to be less abrasive than Kenyon, whose cocky predictions and outlandish statements made him a hate figure for fans of every club, including Chelsea.

"Everybody has a different style," Gourlay said in his first interview since taking over. "People always say to me, 'You worked with Peter Kenyon for a long time,' but we are two completely different personalities and I do things different.

"Hopefully, if there was brashness there, then maybe you won't see as much brashness going forward. You'll still see as much energy; you'll probably see more will to win with realistic goals. We've learnt a lot in the last five years."

One thing Chelsea have failed to do in the last five years is to win the Champions League, although they came very close in 2008, losing to Manchester United on penalties. Despite stating a desire not to appear brash, Gourlay believes Chelsea can win the trophy twice in the next five seasons, to make the club meet its target of two before 2015.

"In the 10-year plan, there were two Champions Leagues in there and we've been very unlucky," Gourlay said. "Over the next five years we've still got to shoot for the stars. I'd still like to think we can win the Champions League twice in the next five years. That might sound aggressive but I do think we can still do it."

Gourlay, who is a Dundee fan and grew up in the Scottish market town of Coupar Angus, admitted there was little chance of Chelsea reducing their £160m wage bill but promised it would only increase if there was a proportionate rise in income.

He also said he did not see Manchester City as a potential threat to Chelsea in the hunt for more business worldwide, accusing them of being "Manchester-centric".

"With the players they have, they're certainly going to try and push their way into the top five," Gourlay said. "Commercially, it's not that easy. They're very much a Manchester- centric club. To break into the 'big world' and start developing your business in Asia and in the US, you need to really start winning some trophies, and not just one Premier League."

Gourlay said Abramovich was delighted with Chelsea's progress this season under new coach Carlo Ancelotti, with the club leading the Premier League by two points.

"He wants to win games by playing exciting football," Gourlay said. "That's the model you're seeing today. We've changed the way we play. Carlo will be given time. His background is slightly different to where we've been in the past. You've got to look at how we've started this season and we do lead very well from the front."

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