Wigan Athletic and Wigan Warriors, the town's soccer and rugby league clubs, respectively, have had a long-standing relationship with The Brick, which made their recent stadium naming rights agreement with the local anti-poverty charity a “natural” evolution of their close ties.

The 25,133-seat venue, built and opened in 1999, was initially known as the JJB Stadium before being renamed the DW Stadium in 2009.

The multi-sports venue will now be known as The Brick Community Stadium for the next 18 months, a period that will see the Latics and Warriors work closely with the charity to develop the partnership through increased community initiatives.

This will include a series of activations to help raise funds and awareness for the organization.

The deal with The Brick will run until the end of 2025, while the clubs will work to secure a long-term commercial stadium partner for 2026 and beyond.

“We felt that rather than not have a partner, it made eminent sense, given the community aspirations, to bring a local charity like The Brick on board for the next 18 months to give them a platform for their work,” Wigan Athletic chairman Ben Goodburn says.

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“Both clubs have supported The Brick historically, particularly over the last five years. This is a natural continuation of that, but hopefully on a bigger platform.

“We play around 40 games, across rugby and football, at home over a year and many of those are broadcast nationally and internationally. For The Brick to have that platform and showcase the great work they do is fantastic.”

Purpose-led partnerships have been more prevalent in sports since the onset of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Sports teams, in many cases, are considered community assets, so supporting local charities, especially in tougher economic times, is part of their wider social responsibility.

This has always been something the Wigan clubs have claimed is a key focus, and the tie-up with The Brick will focus on key social issues such as mental health and wellness, poverty, and the wider cost of living crisis in the UK.

In a town where one in five children live in poverty, Wigan’s two sporting sides represent a distraction and source of pride.

“I want to capitalize on this opportunity and it's the social capital that’s so important because the influence that these two clubs can have on the local town and people that live here is massive,” Keely Dalfen, The Brick chief executive, explains.

“We’ve always worked with both the Latics and Warriors so this is something that just builds on that.”

Fan engagement

Building stronger ties with the community through this partnership should result in more fans being attracted to fixtures, creating a lasting legacy and a tangible link to the town.

“The deal will definitely strengthen community ties and might drive footfall,” Kris Radlinski, Wigan Warriors chief executive, says.

“That's a knock-on effect of doing it, it's certainly not the driving force. The sporting clubs are very much part of the community.”

The sentiment was echoed by Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester who was recently re-elected and was previously an MP in Leigh in the Wigan borough.

“Sports clubs are becoming more important, especially in a place like this,” he says.

“Sport is the lifeblood of the Wigan borough. It becomes important in these divided times for sport to play that role in binding people back together and putting the right values at the heart of sport.” 

Building strong fan engagement is another goal of the two clubs with the aim of bringing their supporters together after a history of divide between the Latics and Warriors faithful.

Radlinski says the clubs will be “working closer together than ever before”, with fan engagement initiatives high on the agenda.

Given the Warriors’ recent success – winning last year’s Super League and the World Club Challenge in February – and the popularity of rugby league in the town, the club has generally drawn bigger attendances than their soccer counterparts.

The Warriors drew an average attendance of 13,497 to the stadium across the winning 2023 Super League season, the highest either club has managed since the Warriors’ 2017 campaign.

This tally was highlighted by the bumper 24,275 crowd for the team’s game against title rivals St Helens, the most the Warriors have attracted to a Super League game since 2005.

A crowd of 24,091 also watched the team’s 16-12 win over Australian National Rugby League champions Penrith Panthers to secure a record-equalling fifth World Club Challenge title.

Wigan Athletic did, however, welcome of 22,870 for the visit of Premier League giants Manchester United in the FA Cup third round in January – the highest for the club in over a decade.

Both the Latics and Warriors are keen to get more fans into The Brick Community Stadium regularly and enhance that connection with the locals with their work off the pitch.

“If people can identify with the work that we're doing in the community, they’re perhaps more likely to come,” says Goodburn, who is also non-executive director of the Warriors.

“The other big thing is making the stadium more vibrant and fun during matchdays by having a fan zone, for example. The entertainment aspect is also huge.”

For Radlinkski, the key is to also engage with fans on non-matchdays and utilize the stadium throughout the year which will ultimately help increase revenues.

To capitalize on the venue, the club is hosting a concert series featuring well-known UK acts such as Noel Gallagher.

“One thing we'd like to do with the stadium is make it a hive of activities all year, at the moment it’s only busy on matchdays,” he explains. “We've got to turn it into a money-making machine. Other clubs around the world are making money on non-matchdays.

“Whether that's conferences or concerts, it's extra revenue. In these challenging times, you have to look for different ways. Yes, it’s asking people for more money but we're going to give them something that's entertaining and exciting.

“That's what's great about the project. We're going to bring this place to life and make it a hive of activity. Non-matchday revenue is where we need to be looking. It’s a year-long business. It's a great blueprint for us because it's a good stadium and we can be creative and do some really cool things.”

Wigan Athletic are also seeking to draw in new fans and a younger demographic with the creation of a women’s team for the first time in the club’s history in September.

Long-term plan

The deal with The Brick will run until the end of 2025, after which the Wigan clubs will collaborate to secure a long-term partner.

The Latics and Warriors are now owned by Wigan-born businessman Mike Danson, who also owns GlobalData.

Danson acquired League One side Wigan Athletic in June 2023 and took full control of the Warriors last December after former chairman Ian Lenagan stood down at the end of the 2023 season following 16 years of his family’s ownership of the club.

Lenagan departed after leading the Warriors to their record 23rd Super League title last year.

This marks the first time that Wigan’s two major sports teams have been under the same ownership since Dave Whelan sold the Warriors in 2007.

While mending fences between the town’s partisan sports fans is high on the agenda, there are several areas of focus for the new ownership, both of which have struggled financially in recent years following a pandemic-induced dip in gate receipts with games played behind closed doors.

Athletic and Warriors have shared a stadium since 1999, but rarely have both sides benefitted together from the venue. Now that the stadium, as well as both clubs, is under the ownership of Danson, it will allow for the expansion of the single ownership’s revenue strategy beyond matchdays.

Bringing in a paying naming rights sponsor will certainly support this financial goal but any commercial partner coming on board must fit the ethos of both clubs.

“We have not had a paying stadium naming rights sponsor since 2018,” Goodburn outlines. “So that’s six years without bringing in any revenue for the stadium so it's definitely something we want to do.

“Potential commercial partners need to understand what our philosophy and strategy are and if they can see that we're community-focused, then clearly that will land well with many organizations that are aligned in our thinking.

“With all commercial partners, you're on a journey and you want to reflect each other's philosophies and we'll always look to work with partners where we strike the right balance between financial reward for the club and values.”

When Danson bought Wigan Athletic, he saved the club from a winding-up order and financial oblivion. With the Warriors purchase following soon after, it signified the beginning of a wider growth strategy built on the two clubs and the town itself.

Radlinski revealed that any future naming rights partner must retain the “community stadium” moniker.

Described as a “reunification project”, Danson’s ownership aims to unite a community and finally bridge the divide between Wigan’s soccer and rugby fans.

Read: In The Boardroom with Wigan Warriors

Wigan – a “broken town” on the road to sporting reunification?