The club has been criticised for its association with the money-lending company
This month, loan-shark company Wonga signed a multi-million pound sponsorship deal with Premier League club Newcastle United. The controversial deal, which comes into effect next season, is set to generate over £8 million a year for the club.
At the beginning of last season, many Newcastle fans expressed their frustration at the renaming of St James’ Park. As part of the deal, Wonga have agreed to forgo sponsorship rights to the stadium, allowing the infamous ‘Sports Direct Arena’ to be known by its former name once again.
Critics will argue that this is a cover-up to divert attention away from the fact that Wonga is essentially a legal ‘loan shark’ company who capitalise on vulnerable people in desperate financial trouble, in order to pursue their own financial gain.
Surely Newcastle Unites have a certain social responsibility to their fans and community. Promoting a controversial company such as Wonga could jeopardise its own image and reputation.
To complicate matters, Newcastle’s starting XI includes four practicing Muslims in Demba Ba, Papiss Cissé, Cheik Tioté and Hatem Ben Arfa. Under Sharia law, a Muslim is not allowed to benefit from lending or receiving money from someone, which means that earning interest is not allowed.
Ex-Sevilla striker and Muslim Frédéric Kanouté famously refused to wear the logo of gambling company 888.com on his shirt. His personal decision to not bear the logo quite rightly went unpunished by his club and La Liga.
However, given that over a third of Newcastle’s possible starting XI may choose to boycott the Wonga logo, having it as the official shirt sponsor next season seems absurd.
Lifelong Newcastle fan and Muslim Nurudeen Kyari understands the reservations of Ba, Cisse and co. “I can see why they wouldn’t wear it - the whole world is watching them and they are role models to kids and grown-ups alike.”
He admits, however, that the deal may be a necessary evil for the club. “I guess if the money coming in to the club through Wonga is substantial then I can’t complain. I would still buy the club shirt with Wonga as the sponsor.”
The proposed deal is set bring in around £24 million in total, making it the most lucrative sponsorship deal in the club’s history. Wonga have also agreed to invest heavily in the Newcastle’s academy, in the hope of achieving Mike Ashley’s goal of regular Champions League football.
It’s clear, however, that the owners face a task in convincing fans that the sponsorship is appropriate for a high profile club.
Many fans would put the brand into the same category as alcohol and gambling companies. Newcastle, however, might like to draw on other examples of clubs such as Blackpool and Heart of Midlothian, who have sported the Wonga logo without any backlash in popular opinion.
It might also be noted that none of the Newcastle players have a problem with sporting the logo of Virgin Money, the club’s current shirt sponsor.
The Premier League is a competitive financial market, with the top six becoming increasingly distanced from the rest. One thing is for sure: if Newcastle United are continue to challenge for top four spot, they must match the ambition (and more importantly, the spending power) of those above them. Moral responsibility aside, the owners will argue that this was just too good an opportunity to miss.