Liverpool's main sponsor, Carlsberg, is ready to discuss the idea of a naming rights deal for the proposed new stadium at Anfield, as part of a renewed deal with the club.
The Danish beer company, whose 18-year deal with Liverpool is the longest running in the Premier League, has offered the first indication that its widely known dismay at the in-fighting between club owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett has receded.
The Americans have put on a more united front of late and the sponsor suggested that the controversial idea of a Carlsberg Anfield – which would vastly increase the current £7m sponsorship deal – will be on the table when discussions begin in earnest at the end of the season. "That will be part of the discussion, I'm sure, but there have been no decisions yet," Gareth Roberts, Carlsberg UK's director of sponsorship, told The Independent.
Naming rights are a way for the Americans to extract serious money from the club they secured through a leveraged buy-out in February 2007 and growing what, by current standards, is a modest deal with Carlsberg when it expires at the end of next season. Arsenal's 13-year stadium deal with airline Emirates is valued at £100m, which includes an eight-year shirt deal.
It will be up to the Americans, already undertaking a global review of assets in an attempt to raise finances, to decide whether the additional revenue naming rights would bring is worth the anticipated opposition from some fans to such a sensitive issue. Their dire need of money suggests they may be willing to make the move.
The fact Carlsberg is willing to discuss the naming rights proposition reveals that the threat to the future relationship between the two partners has receded, though Roberts admitted that uncertainties surrounding the July expiry of bank deals rescheduling £350m of loans the Americans took to buy Liverpool had been a "distraction" on sponsorship talks.
Carlsberg is still seeking more assurances about whether the loans will be refinanced but the prevailing view, supported by leading football financier Keith Harris this week, is that they will be. "We would be very interested in what happens [with the rescheduling]. I'm sure that the conversations that go on between the two parties will reflect that," Roberts said.
But Carlsberg does appear to be more confident that the stadium, placed on hold by the Americans with the credit markets frozen, will actually be built.
"The stadium is a big step of their progression in the future and we want to be part of that," Roberts said. "The best thing is they [Hicks and Gillett] seem to have resolved the internal issues and they are going to take the next step. We need to understand where they are going with the stadium [but] we are really ambitious that they get the next step right as it will take them into the next stage of their progression [as a club] as well. They have done very well taking the next step in the league but it is about them setting the platform for the future."
Roberts' language was notably different to that from sources close to Carlsberg earlier this year, who spoke of the civil war at Anfield as "pretty bleak".
Hicks and Gillett have attempted to create some sense of harmony recently and actually sat together during Liverpool's 4-4 draw against Arsenal at Anfield in April.
Name game: Ground sponsorship
Emirates Stadium (Arsenal)
Reebok Stadium (Bolton Wanderers)
Pirelli Stadium (Burton Albion)
Weston Homes Community Stadium (Colchester United)
Ricoh Arena (Coventry City)
Northern Echo Darlington Arena (Darlington)
Keepmoat Stadium (Doncaster Rovers)
KC Stadium (Hull City)
Walkers Stadium (Leicester City)
Britannia Stadium (Stoke City)
Liberty Stadium (Swansea City)
JJB Stadium (Wigan Athletic) [will be renamed DW Stadium this summer]
KitKat Crescent (York City)