End of an era as Eden Park name is lost to bank sponsorship

As surely as night follows day, major new stadium developments bear the name of a title sponsor – often in a commercial transaction that could be nine figures over ten to 15 years.

But of the great ‘legacy’ venues, there have been some important holdouts.

Now, according to New Zealand media, a major change is on the way for Auckland's iconic Eden Park which, unusually, is both a Test ground for both rugby and cricket.

After years of resistance, the naming rights for the national stadium have been sold to ASB Bank, meaning 'The Garden of Eden' will be no more.

To date, the Eden Park Trust Board had resisted conceding the rights, but Newshub understands financial pressures due to the impact of the coronavirus may have forced its hand.

‘At times we forget there’s a game on in the middle’. Fulsome praise from Eden Park suiteholders from a 2014 video about the value of live event official VIP Hospitality at New Zealand’s premier venue

The actual work-up of the new name for the stadium is yet to be confirmed. New Zealand media reported overnight that ASB Bank would ‘gift’ the naming rights to the first event in the stadium to a local small or medium-sized enterprise to assist in the coronavirus recovery effort. But the name of that company is not expected to be revealed until the end of this week.

The Eden in Eden Park comes from George Eden - the first and last Earl of Auckland - who lent his name to a city he never visited and a sports ground he never knew existed. Eden died in 1849, and it was his name that was attached to the paddock on top of Mt Eden which was leased by cricket enthusiasts to create the Eden Cricket Club. From there, as the cricket club expanded and took in rugby as their winter code, Eden Park was developed.

And yes, the French clothing brand Eden Park, created by rugby international Franck Mesnel, is also named after the famous Auckland venue. As well as the 1991 and 1995 tournaments, Mesnel played in the very first RWC final, at Eden Park in 1987, where New Zealand defeated France 29-9.

It’s not clear how much the title sponsorship package generated. In a 2006 New Zealand Herald report it was claimed that the venue’s trust board was looking for at least NZ$5m per year.

The unveiling of the new stadium name is likely to happen quickly and should be in place by the time of the second Bledisloe Cup test on October 18.

Eden Park has hosted a range of classic Kiwi sporting occasions, from the 1950 Empire Games - where Yvette Williams won gold in the long jump - to a pair of Cricket World Cup semi-finals, and a couple of triumphant Rugby World Cup finals.

Remembering the final of the 2011 Rugby World Cup played at Eden Park where, after 24 years of pain, the All Blacks finally threw off the pain of being the sport’s biggest ‘choker’

It's become a fortress for the nation's national code, particularly against Australia, where the All Blacks haven't lost to their trans-Tasman rivals in 34 years.

All Blacks coaching great Sir Graham Henry was at the helm for a large portion of those wins and understands the rationale behind the decision.

‘In these times, where money's tough, I guess it's a natural step but disappointing to some extent,’ Sir Graham tells Newshub.

But the name-change won't ‘make any difference’ to its legacy, Sir Graham insists.

‘They’re standing at Eden Park’: The management of the All Blacks gave their inspirational captain Richie McCaw a brilliant send off by substituting him when play was on the far side of the Eden Park pitch, enabling the crowd to show their appreciation to a player many consider their country’s greatest captain ever
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Charlie Charters is a former rugby union official and sports marketing executive turned thriller writer whose debut book Bolt Action was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2010.
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