Newcastle United have announced they are to rename their stadium in a bid to generate more revenue for the club. St James’ Park, the home of the Magpies since 1892, will now be known as the Sports Direct Arena – after owner Mike Ashley’s company. The club have insisted that this is a temporary move, in an effort to showcase the Newcastle United brand to further sponsors who will potentially be granted full naming rights. The much maligned Northern Rock have declared that their current sponsorship deal with the north-east club has been terminated early, paving the way for a new company to invest.
This controversial decision is likely to divide fans, who will no doubt be torn between perceived damage to the longstanding tradition of their spiritual home and the financial benefits that can be gained from such a deal. The news provides yet more controversy surrounding owner Mike Ashley, who is far from unanimously popular amongst the Toon. The millionaire has previously generated animosity amongst the Geordie faithful by instilling the so-called ‘Cockney Mafia’, alienating club legend Kevin Keegan and sacking Chris Hughton, not to mention making several very public attempts to sell the outfit.
There are those who have been quick to lambast this latest move, such as ex-chairman Freddy Shepherd who claims that potential suitors will be put off by the fierce pride of the United supporters. ‘Fans in Newcastle, like myself, will always call it St James’ Park anyway,’ Shepherd asserted, ‘so anyone claiming the rights, it’s not going to do them much good.’ Shepherd, at least, is adamant that this move will anger fans and fail to attract the desired sponsorship.
The club however, were quick to respond. Managing director Derek Llambias resolutely said that such a sponsorship deal is vital for the Magpies to continue to compete at the highest level. With seven wins from their first eleven outings this season, Newcastle are sitting pretty at third in the Premier League. Llambias has insisted that ‘to compete we need to go further, we’ve had a fantastic start [but] we need to give ourselves as much of a chance as possible.’ With the club claiming that £8-£10 million can be made from the deal, fans will perhaps treat the idea with more optimism, with particular reference to the transfer market, having seen the likes of Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton leaving the club recently in a bid for financial stability.
This choice is becoming an increasingly common one within football, with Newcastle now the seventh team in the Premier League with a sponsored stadium – alongside Arsenal, Bolton, Manchester City, Swansea, Stoke and Wigan. Oil-rich Chelsea also recently announced plans to follow a similar model next season. Premier League followers can count themselves lucky, as fans of the NFL are subjected to sponsor-induced stadium names such as the ‘Heinz Field’ and the ‘Qualcomm Stadium’. In the modern game, perhaps it is inevitable that in order to compete every financial avenue will be explored. After all, the stadium was previously named ‘[email protected]’ but this was universally ignored by the footballing world in recognition of the supposed passion the ground generates and the history it holds for English football. As Shepherd claims, Newcastle United’s stadium, the heartbeat of the city, will always be St. James’ Park.
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