St James' Park renamed Sports Direct Arena 'to attract sponsors'

 

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The Independent Online

It has been too quiet for rather too long at Newcastle United, and with that perhaps in mind, owner Mike Ashley has taken the bold decision to redress the largely good news to have been generated by Alan Pardew's unbeaten side so far this season with a development rather less palatable to supporters, pushing through his long-stated aim to rename the club's home, one of British football's most iconic venues. Goodbye St James' Park, hello Sports Direct Arena. For many regulars fans, that is grounds for divorce.

Ashley (right) has not been averse to making unpopular calls in his four-and-a-half-year tenure, during which he has invested hundreds of millions of pounds in the club. When he first announced plans to rebrand the ground that has been under the same name for the best part of 120 years he met with little but derision from fans.

The move, designed to attract sponsors who have failed to show a level of interest since the idea was first mooted in 2009, is likely to receive a similarly frosty welcome. Ashley is thick-skinned enough to ride out the short-term pain in the hope of long-term gain.

"These are difficult economic times and the board have a responsibility to maximise all revenue streams for the benefit of the club," Derek Llambias, the managing director, said. "Stadium rebranding offers a lucrative way for clubs to secure significant additional income.

The name change means, at this stage, no added revenue for the club, but it has been done in the hope that will be rectified once the inevitable chorus of disapproval has died down.

More than 23,000 supporters signed a petition in protest two years ago organised by Newcastle United Supporters' Trust. Llambias added: "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."

Newcastle also have an imminent vacancy for an official shirt sponsor. "Our 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," Llambias added.

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