Court hears FNB Stadium naming rights appeal

The rights that First National Bank had regarding the FNB Stadium in Soweto was removed with its demolition to build the new stadium for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, the Supreme Court of Appeal heard on Tuesday.

Legal counsel for Stadium Management South Africa (SMSA) Fanie du Plessis said an agreement in 2007 put no obligation on the management of the soccer complex — referred to as Soccer City during the World Cup — to put FNB’s name on tickets or programmes.

SMSA was appointed by the City of Johannesburg to manage the stadium in Soweto.

The appeal follows a decision by the High Court in Johannesburg that Soccer City would go back to its old name, FNB Stadium, in August this year.

The financial institution had taken SMSA to court to prevent it from changing the name of the stadium to Soccer City.

The High Court prevented stadium management from referring to the stadium by any name other than FNB Stadium.

Du Plessis submitted that naming rights to a stadium was created by a contract between two parties who could give effect to such a right.

He argued that FNB’s existing contract was too “vague” for a court to force anybody to name the facility FNB Stadium only.

‘No obligation’
“On the contracts as they are now, there is no obligation to use the name.”

He further submitted the total naming right, as it was now, had no value due to no obligation by stadium management to fill the stadium with spectators which would give it a commercial value.

Legal counsel for the City of Johannesburg, S Joseph, also submitted that the interdict’s scope was too wide by including people outside the stadium precinct.

Joseph said it was wrong for the High Court to create a situation that would hold any ordinary citizen “in contempt of court” if they did not refer to the stadium in Soweto as the FNB Stadium.

“How can they [FNB] force anybody outside to refer to that name specifically?”

FNB’s legal counsel Piet Louw submitted his client had the sole right to name the stadium in terms of a contract.

“We are concerned about the commercial rights, not any nicknames.”

He submitted it had nothing to do with somebody walking past the stadium and referring to it as the “calabash”.

Before adjourning for lunch, Louw said any references in agreements to refurbishment or reconstruction since the original contract did not replace the “right there was”.

FNB argued that it had the right to the name of the stadium until 2014.

The original stadium was completed in 1988 and owned by FNB.

As part of preparations for the 2010 World Cup, FNB said, in compliance with Fifa requirements, it agreed that the name and/or logo of the stadium be changed for a period starting three months before the World Cup opening match, and ending a week after the last match.

The case continues. — Sapa

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