In a move that is sure to further infuriate the Toon Army over his ownership of the club, Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has ended 119 years of Newcastle United history and heritage by re-naming St James’ Park the Sports Direct Arena.
Newcastle Chairman Derek Llambias says that Newcastle needed to sell the naming rights to St James Park if its wants to compete with the top clubs in the Premier League:
“Roman Abramovich has more money than God but Chelsea are out there trying to re-brand Stamford Bridge to bring in even more money” said Llambias. “So if it’s good enough for Chelsea, it has to be good enough for Newcastle United. We have started the season well and we want that to continue. But to compete with the Manchester Uniteds, Manchester Citys and Chelseas we need to make sure we bring in every penny possible because football’s a very expensive game. The fans may criticise this but those will be the same fans who want us to buy more players and spend more and more money. Let’s get this clear — we want to buy more players, we want to invest more into the club. But to do that we need the money not just to buy players but to commit to paying their wages for four to five years. That’s a huge commitment. So re-branding the stadium like this is one way to meet that sort of commitment. I honestly believe when people see the branding around the stadium they will be impressed. They’ll realise what a valuable platform the stadium is — and so will potential sponsors. We are hoping that when worldwide brands see Sports Direct emblazoned around the ground they will think ‘that could be our name up there’. That’s the point of this exercise. “Right now it’s Sports Direct that pays for everything we do and people should respect that. And I have worked tirelessly to bring in new sponsors and partners over the past 18 months but all our efforts have failed. It’s understandable because there’s a world-wide recession going on. There’s no money in the North-East right now — there’s very little money anywhere in the UK or Europe for that matter. But if this new branding helps attract a big-name sponsor to come in and work in partnership with us, to invest in us — well it would be a massive boost to helping us achieve our big ambitions for this great football club.”
The difference between what Newcastle did and what Chelsea are talking about doing, is that Chelsea are insisting that “Stamford Bridge” be part of the new stadium name. Much as Liverpool has insisted that any remaining of their stadium has to include “Anfield. Those clubs want to preserve their history while Mike Ashley is just peeing all over Newcastle’s.
What I don’t understand is the timing. Newcastle have made a terrific start to the season and their is a feel-good spirit about the club and the city at the moment. Coming out if the international break Newcastle play Man City (a), Man United (a) and Chelsea (h). A really tough set of fixtures and you would think that Ashley would want to toon army behind the team during this next three matches, not protesting about his ownership.