Newcastle United Rename Stadium in Move Which Risks Fan Revolt
After 119 years, St James' Park is no more. Much-maligned Newcastle United owner, Mike Ashley, took full advantage of the club's current high position in the Barclays Premier League to rebrand the stadium the Sports Direct Arena.
Renaming after his own company ensures Ashley will receive the brunt of the fan backlash, meaning that whichever company purchases the future naming rights will merely be a continuation, rather than a radical change.
A stream of controversy is expected, considering the historical implications of renaming a stadium the age of St James' Park, but it will not be the last to surrender its title as UEFA's Financial Fair Play rulings loom ever closer. In the Barclays Premier League alone, Newcastle United now join Arsenal, Manchester City, Bolton Wanderers, Swansea City, Stoke City and Wigan Athletic in a group which will most likely have increased by this time next season.
Newcastle United Managing Director, Derek Llambias, claims that the rebranding will be beneficial for the fiscal future of the club.
"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. Stadium rebranding offers a lucrative way for clubs to secure significant additional income.
"When we initially launched our plans at the end of 2009, we invited sponsors to attach their brand to that of St. James' Park. However it has become clear that in order to make the proposition as commercially attractive as possible, a potential sponsor must be given the opportunity to fully rebrand the stadium.
"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."
The more recent examples of stadia rights being sold in England include Arsenal's The Emirates and Manchester City's The Etihad. The caveat, however, is that these were new grounds, without the rich history of St James' Park.
The Emirates was initially known as Ashburton Grove, before a £100 million, 15-year deal with Emirates Airlines saw the stadium take on the new branding. Manchester City's stadium had existed for a slightly longer eight years before being rebranded The Etihad, but fans had no real attachment to the original name placed upon it by the Manchester City Council.
Had the stadium sponsorship come at a time when the teams were playing at their respective former stadia, Highbury and Maine Road, fan reaction could have been extremely different.
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