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Name and shame coverage of November 9th 2011
Almost two years to the day that a "rebranding" of St.James' Park to " @ St James' Park" was announced and with related signage only recently erected, a further change is now confirmed and with immediate effect it's to be known as:

The Sports Direct Arena

Having made significant strides in PR terms this season and seen their popularity rise in tandem with progress on the field, this looks like yet another own goal by NUFC.

Just when "Peace in our Tyne" looked to have been achieved after another tumultuous period of player (and managerial) departures and other distractions, this seems both ill-advised and avoidable - running the risk of opening up old wounds for no guaranteed reward.

If commercial investment in the club from third parties is to be forthcoming though, then surely that would be driven by the continuing good form of the team and the resultant full stadium and content fan base?

Handing a cause to those moved to protest - and risking a return to the "toxic brand" days of 2008 hardly seems likely to attract inward cash and again, throws up a subject that will inevitably cause fury among fans.

The announcement is timed to maximise the period before our next home game and give any dissent and protests ample time to blow themselves out before Chelsea head to Tyneside on the first Saturday in December.

The best chance of convincing justifiably distrustful fans that a stadium rename is for genuine commercial reasons remains someone walking up Barrack Road clutching a big cardboard cheque with lots of zeroes on it.

Making fans believe that this rename is a trade off for the financial investment of the owner though is a much harder sell - perhaps if Ashley just came out and admitted that, then acceptance might come easier. Perhaps if he spoke at all in public then it might help on a general level.

While the notion of renaming stadia with sponsors names is a familiar one, the other current Premier League examples tend to be newly-built venues where naming rights were sold "off-plan". We have to be different, apparently and give the impression of jettisoning decades of history to anyone with a spare bag of swag.

In a cock-eyed way though, that precedent of trying to change the name of an established stadium may turn out to be the one saving grace - and a cast-iron reason why trying to sell those rights to a third party is futile.

The Emirates Stadium is the Emirates Stadium, it's never been anything else, except a plan of a hole in the ground once called Ashburton Grove - it has no other name.

Newcastle United however play at St.James' Park and always have done. Everyone knows that and will continue to know that - regardless of what irritating branding is applied to it. You won't call it that and neither will we.

It's an interesting dilemma: moan about calling it the Sports Direct Arena sufficiently and it will stay as that; allow it to pass comparatively un-remarked and increase the chances of it becoming a 52,000 seat billboard for an airline or a credit card company. You want to leave it the way it's been since 1880? Then buy it.

And of course, any negativity from fans as a result of this renaming attempt that transmits itself to the team (as happened in the 2008/09 season) then becomes the sole explanation for any consequent downturn in on-field fortunes - regardless of whatever else happens.

Final thoughts for now:

i) There's nothing to stop someone buying the naming rights and coming up with their own version of callitafterourcompany @ St.James' Park.

ii) After draping St.James' Park in his own branding, does news that the shirt sponsorship deal is now up for grabs also raise the possibility that Sports Direct could end up emblazoned across our chests, if no other deal is agreed?
That could see TOFFS looking at a sales bonanza....

If Ashley is willing to rename SJP, will the black and white stripes also be jettisoned for a blue and red kit? Are we eventually going to become Sports Direct United...?

iii) The 10 year fixed price ST deal and the current reduced price part ST deal / family reductions looked too good to be true. Here's the hidden cost.

iv) Regarding commercial branding next year when 2012 Olympic football tournament games are staged at SJP, the stadium will be renamed for the duration of the event - a measure already announced for the Ricoh Arena, which will temporarily become the City of Coventry Stadium.

PS: back to that 2009 announcement, following which NUFC MD Derek Llambias was asked if the name St James' Park would always remain as the official stadium name.

His reply was simple:  "Absolutely. In our reign, absolutely."

Club statement, Thursday:

Newcastle United have today announced plans to license the full naming rights to the club's stadium following consultation with international branding experts.

The board are committed to generating additional commercial revenue from advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

The original naming rights proposal, launched in November 2009, invited sponsors to link their brand to St. James' Park, but this did not prove commercially attractive.

As such, the club will now seek a sponsor who will be granted full naming rights. Until such time the stadium will be renamed the Sports Direct Arena.

Managing Director, Derek Llambias, said:

"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.”

Speaking to BBC Radio Newcastle on Thursday, NUFC MD Derek Llambias attempted to justify why a name change of St. James' Park has been announced - but failed to address the question of why that change was necessary before a sponsor had been secured:

"I would hope it would generate between £8 million and £10 million a year. That would give us another player. The club needs to be self-sufficient, and this will help us be self-sufficient.

"Yes, we do need to go that one step further to compete. Yes, we do. We have had an exceptional year, and long may it continue, but the fans want us to buy more players.

"We need to bring in a striker in January, we will need replacements in the summer and we need to give ourselves as much as possible.

"There is no guarantee we will find a sponsor between now and then, but we have to give ourselves the opportunity and this is one. We have to keep going at it. We can't just say 'Oh, it hasn't worked out, let's go back to what we were'. We have to give ourselves the maximum opportunity to sell it.

"I totally respect the tradition and history of the club. That is always going to be there, but we need to move with the times and this is progression. We need to move on. We are not disrespecting our fans at all. Far from it. We are trying to make it affordable and put players on the pitch.

"We have exhausted all our other revenue streams, retail is not good - that produces next to nothing, quite honestly - so we need to bring in more, quite honestly.

"We have been out there a long time looking. We lose Northern Rock as a sponsor this year, so it gives me a very small window to get a new shirt sponsor and hopefully a stadium sponsor at the same time.

"We understand that side of it (fan resistance to referring to the ground by any other name), but it is the sponsor's responsibility, as well as ours, to move forward. Time will dissolve that.

"The history will always be there, we just become part of the history or they become part of the history. We just need to make sure we give ourselves the opportunity.

"You know Chelsea has come out to basically say they are going to re-name their present stadium. Now, they have a long history as well, but they have an owner who actually has more money than God.

"We can't compare ourselves to Abramovich, we have not got that sort of money, so if we want to compete with the big boys, we have to bring more money in."

So there we have it. The ground name is for sale because the fans are demanding another striker - an admission that no more of the Andy Carroll money is going to be spent on players and all £35m has already been reinvested in the club? Those agents fees really must be extortionate....

Let's assume that the £8-10m is an exaggeration and in reality selling this part of the club's heritage will bring in more like £5-7m. Is it worth it? That is not going to help us "compete with the big boys" - especially if United's previous explanation of their transfer dealings and the significant sums payable to agents are accurate.

At the moment clubs like Stoke City, Fulham and QPR are outspending us, while we plead poverty. That's despite 45K season ticket holders, a significant share of TV money, substantial merchandise income (including three new shirts per year) and the fees banked from other player sales - not just big Andy.

Why are we not already competing with every team in the Premier League except Chelsea, the two Manchester clubs and possibly Arsenal? It can't be put down to massive player wages anymore, unless Alan Smith is still costing us £10m/year....

Like the Carroll transfer fee, a lot of us would accept the economics if we thought the money was going to be used purely for team strengthening, but recent history suggests otherwise.

It seems that over four years on, Ashley's lack of due diligence is still being paid for by everyone connected with the club, except those at fault.

Speaking on behalf of Newcastle City Council, Henri Murison, said:

"The name of St James’ Park has been synonymous with Newcastle United football club and the city for more than 130 years.

"It is recognised around the world and the decision to change it, without consultation, will upset the overwhelming majority of fans who loyally support the team week in and week out.

"While I understand the commercial reasons for renaming sports venues when they relocate, this is not the case in this instance, and some things are beyond profit when they mean so much to people.

"The football club is part of the beating heart of the city, and while the council values its relationship with the club, it has no plans to change any existing way-finding signs which bear the name St James’ Park.

"As far as the fans and Newcastle City Council are concerned, the home of Newcastle United will always be known as St James’ Park.”

Nexus statement, Thursday:

"We are not renaming St James Metro station.”

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Page last updated 03 November, 2012