Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley has never been a figure afraid to court controversy. But has the larger than life businessman scored the biggest own goal of his career to date?
The Magpies’ decision to rename St James’ Park the Sports Direct Arena after owner Ashley’s company has not been universally accepted on Tyneside. In fact the move has been sparked negative feedback from United’s loyal fan base with some now calling for the board to be sacked. However, the club remains determined to cash in on the stadium naming rights, despite the backlash.
Newcastle bosses are now searching for a “long-term sponsor to acquire full naming rights”, possibly for both the ground and playing kit. Managing director Derek Llambias said:
“Stadium rebranding offers a lucrative way for clubs to secure significant additional income.
“Our aim for Newcastle United is to continue to deliver success for the fans and everyone associated with the club. We must make this club financially self-sufficient in order to deliver that success.
“To grow sustainably and allow us to invest in our future, we will need to rely increasingly heavily on commercial income.
“These are very difficult economic times and the board have a responsibility to maximise all revenue streams for the benefit of the club
“Naming the stadium the Sports Direct Arena helps up to showcase the opportunity to interested parties.
“We are now actively seeking a long-term sponsor wishing to acquire full naming rights for the stadium.
“Our shirt sponsorship deal with Northern Rock will also expire at the end of this season, which presents would-be sponsors with the opportunity to acquire both the naming rights and shirt sponsorship deals.”
St James’ Park is the oldest ground in the north east, with football having been played on its turf since 1880. Newcastle East End moved to the ground in 1892 before changing their name to Newcastle United. After major development, a new-look St James’ Park was opened on the site in 1905. And in one madcap move is threatening to re-write the history books.
There’s little doubt the strategic move could generate vast sums of money, but at the same time could also alienate sections of their supporters. Supporting Newcastle is not just a passion for the Geordies, it’s a way of life and in most cases a complete lifestyle choice.
The Geordies are almost a dyingbreed who often resent change and to change the name of one of the most sacred places in their lives is bound to trigger a reaction.
Just where does that leave things for the rest of the Premier League teams and beyond? Will we see the likes of the Big Mac stadium in the future?
Newcastle’s move is certainly an interesting one — but just which company is going to be brave enough to step up the plate to put its name to the ground?