SBD/November 10, 2011/Facilities

Newcastle Faces Potential Fan Backlash After Renaming St James' Park

EPL club Newcastle Owner Mike Ashley "faces a potential backlash from supporters after the announcement that St James' Park is to be rebranded as the Sports Direct Arena as part of the club's plan to sell the naming rights to the stadium," according to James Riach of the GUARDIAN. In a move that "ends 119 years of history, Ashley has temporarily renamed the ground after his company -- at no financial benefit to Newcastle -- and invited external backers to purchase the rights." By following the example of fellow EPL clubs Arsenal and Manchester City, Newcastle "believes it will become 'financially self-sufficient' in the long term" (GUARDIAN, 11/10). In London, Ben Smith notes work is “already under way to remove signage” at the stadium, and the move is “likely to spark widespread anger among supporters." Newcastle Managing Dir Derek Llambias said, “A lot of the fans will not like it. But we will take the hit of their criticism and anger because it will be good for the club.” He added, "We must make this club financially self-sufficient in order to deliver ... success. Stadium rebranding offers a lucrative way for clubs to secure significant additional income." Although Newcastle “will not benefit immediately from the deal, their hierarchy believes it will pave the way for the naming rights to be sold on again in the coming months as part of a potentially lucrative multiple sponsorship deal.” Llambias said, “I don’t expect Sports Direct Arena to be the name for long. We could have a deal by Christmas.” Sources said that Llambias “is hopeful that a deal would raise between" US$12.8M-16M per season. A number of companies “have already expressed an interest in a deal, but negotiations are at an early stage.” The club’s shirt deal with Northern Rock, reportedly worth about US$3.2M per season, “is set to expire this summer and Newcastle hope to tempt an investor to take on a joint shirt and stadium deal, with the club ready to commit to a ten-year contract” (LONDON TIMES, 11/10). In London, Luke Edwards notes the name change to Sports Direct Arena “could net as much as" US$24M a year (London TELEGRAPH, 11/10).
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