"It's such a pleasant name. I think it's got grace, style and it doesn't sound as though you're giving the club away to the corporate world."
That was Saints chairman Eamonn McManus back in November 2011 when the club's new stadium opened with the name Langtree Park. But you can disregard his words now with the news this week that the once sensibly named venue will be known as the cringe-inducing Totally Wicked Stadium from the end of 2016. Totally Wicked, in case you weren't aware, are a company which produces E-cigs. Some say that these products are a much safer alternative to real cigarettes and that they are useful to those wishing to quit smoking. The argument rages on about whether they really are safer, but since many sports clubs have sponsorship deals with alcohol manufacturers, gambling companies and the like the moral issue isn't particularly troubling. That is until you come back around to that name. Totally Wicked. Not only is it completely, mortifyingly bad but it's hard to shake the feeling that it is designed to attract young people to e-cigs or 'vaping'. It screams children's television presenter with his cap on backwards at you. All of which rather suggests a different intention than helping seasoned smokers to kick the habit.
The deal runs for the next five years meaning that any time that games held there are televised, broadcast on the radio or reported on in the press it will sound like the action is coming from some wretched skateboard park. This does not only apply to Saints home fixtures but also to any international fixtures which may take place there. There's a World Cup in England in 2021.
Defending the decision to sell the club's soul the good folk in charge have pointed out that it's a record deal. What they haven't told us is exactly how much that translates to. Cynics might suggest that this is because whatever amount the deal has raised can never justify leaving the club and the fans open to the kind of ridicule that will inevitably ensue. How long before some wag from Wigan or Warrington comes up with an acronym for Totally Wicked At The Saints....?
And wouldn't any deal with any sponsor have been a record deal? It's likely given that this is only the third time that Saints have sold the naming rights to the stadium. That includes the largely ignored renaming of the old Knowsley Road ground which became the GPW Recruitment Stadium late in its life. But this is different. GPW Recruitment is utterly non-descript name for a company which produces nothing controversial. Totally Wicked, meanwhile, is an embarrassing moniker with a dubious motive in terms of its target audience.
The embarrassments have already started, with right-wing league haters Sky Sports and the Daily Mail among those to present the story in the way that News At Ten used to present stories about cats getting stuck up trees. Sky Sports News presenter Kirsty Gallagher even felt compelled to assure viewers that the story of the name change was genuine as she introduced the report on it. At that I would start to question what the bumbling RFL's thoughts are on the deal. The Totally Wicked Stadium doesn't just embarrass Saints but the whole of rugby league. With a national media already dying to put the boot in to the sport the last thing the game needs is for one of its top clubs to form this kind of association. We are likely to feel the effects of that in that 2021 World Cup. In 2013 Langtree Park hosted Australia as they took on Fiji. Will organisers want the world and four nations champions playing at the Totally Wicked Stadium? Not if they have any media savvy.
Among the bitching from the people who can't accept that their club do anything wrong the only red herring in all of this is that it will increase vaping in the stadium. It was morally dubious of the club to be so quick to endorse the possible benefits of vaping in the announcement of the deal, but vaping has been allowed in the stadium for the last four years. It is hardly likely to increase now, even if the promotion of a practice we still know too little about scientifically is troubling. In addition Totally Wicked had had its logo on the club shirt and has sponsored the North Stand at Langtree Park since 2013. But those things were barely mentioned irrelevances. The renaming of the stadium is a step too far.
It has no grace or style and sounds exactly like you're giving the club away to the corporate world.