LANSDOWNE Road stadium is no more. The physical demolition of the famous old Ballsbridge ground is complete; now its famous name is also set to be consigned to the pages of history.
The Lansdowne Road Stadium Development Company (LRSDC) yesterday confirmed the IRFU and FAI have appointed US company Wasserman Media Group to seek interest from potential sponsors for the naming rights of the new stadium.
LRSDC chairman and IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said it was anticipated that the rights would be awarded for a 15-year period in line with industry norms.
The rugby and soccer
authorities hope that such sponsorship will provide a major help in funding the 365 million cost of building the new stadium, 191m of which is being contributed by the Government.
Wasserman was also involved in securing a £100m (147.7m) deal for Arsenal FC with airline Emirates, which combined stadium naming rights with a shirt deal.
While the extinction of the Lansdowne Road name is likely to disappoint many sports fans, it comes as no surprise, given that most large-scale, modern stadia have sold their naming rights to defray costs.
The Munster branch of the IRFU has already been criticised for exploring the possibility of selling the naming rights for the planned redevelopment of Thomond Park in Limerick, given the ground’s historical association with Munster rugby.
Opposing the move, local Labour TD Ruairí Quinn said the two sporting bodies should not be allowed to “prostitute” the name of Lansdowne Road for a “revenue-raising exercise”.
Mr Quinn said he was alarmed that a decision to sell the name of the new stadium had been taken without any consultation with local residents or public representatives.
“Lansdowne Road deserves to preserve its famous name, which is recognised all over the world. To sell out the name would greatly disrespect the heroes of Irish sports who represented our nation with great pride in such a famous venue,” he said.
However, Mr Browne said the IRFU and FAI had to take account of the new circumstances within professional sports.
“There is a lot of interest within the corporate world to be involved with the stadium and we welcome that. The reality of the situation is that Lansdowne Road ceased to exist when it was demolished last August,” he said.
The old stadium had become “outdated, outmoded and no longer served its purpose,” he added.
Mr Browne said the company was on target to meet its revised completion date of December 2009, with the first games being played at the new 50,000-seater stadium in the spring of 2010.
The LRSDC said there was still one legal challenge against the new stadium before the courts. An application by local residents for a judicial review of the decision to grant planning permission for the project is due to come before the High Court next month.
Mr Browne also revealed that all 10,000 premium seats for IRFU games over a 10-year period at the new ground have already been sold and heavily oversubscribed.
FAI chief executive John Delaney said he expected similar strong demand for the FAI’s scheme for premium and corporate seats, which will be launched in early 2008.
“I never though I would be so thrilled to see a stadium knocked,” said Mr Delaney. He expressed hope that the new stadium would be granted a UEFA cup final at an early stage following its completion.
However, the stadium’s developers were criticised by a local residents group, who accused the IRFU and FAI of dividing the local community.
The Bath Avenue District and Residents Association said different levels of compensation, ranging from €32,500 to €120,000, offered by the LRSDC to some residents living nearest the ground had become a “very emotive issue”.
Meanwhile, the LRSDC confirmed it would engage in round-the-clock work for a 72-hour period over the October bank holiday weekend to build an underpass below the railway line.