The marketing deal that's anything but black and white

Newcastle's owner has renamed St James' Park the 'Sports Direct Arena'. Will the plan backfire?

What's in a name? Quite a lot if you happen to support Newcastle United, and, like generations of the Premier League club's loyal followers, have made the regular pilgrimage to St James' Park.

In essence, the Sports Direct Arena trips off the tongue in an equally unpalatable manner to the Emirates Stadium, or the Etihad Stadium. The subtle difference, and it is a significant one, is that while Arsenal moved into their already branded new home in 2006, and Manchester City had only been in the City of Manchester Stadium for a handful of seasons before their sponsors got in on the act, Mike Ashley, the Newcastle United owner, has done away with almost 120 years of history in an attempt to sell the long-term naming rights to one of the few remaining city-centre venues in English football, one that will for the time being carry the name of Mr Ashley's flagship retail chain.

Newcastle's notoriously publicity-shy hierarchy have been forced to mount a damage limitation exercise in the wake of almost universal opposition as supporters and ex-players join forces to pour scorn on the fulfilment of a plan first floated two years ago, when it was met with equal disdain., the influential Newcastle fans' website, outlined the problem: "The Emirates Stadium is the Emirates Stadium, it's never been anything else. Other current Premier League examples tend to be newly-built venues where naming rights were sold 'off-plan'. We have to be different, and give the impression of jettisoning decades of history to anyone with a spare bag of swag. Newcastle United play at St James' Park and always have done. Everyone knows that, regardless of what irritating branding is applied to it."

Malcolm Macdonald, a player to have represented both Newcastle and Arsenal in the 1970s, said: "The way Arsenal and Manchester City have done it is fine – they moved to new stadiums. But with Newcastle, it's about a football club's heritage, and you ignore that at your peril."

Derek Llambias, Newcastle's managing director who two years ago insisted the title St James' Park would remain as long as the current regime were in charge, yesterday continued his defence of the re branding.

Revealing that the sale of naming rights could be worth up to £10m, he added: "I totally respect the tradition and history of the club," he said. "But we need to move with the times. We're not disrespecting our fans. Far from it. We're trying to make it affordable and put players on the pitch. We've exhausted all our other revenue streams and if we want to compete, we have to bring more money in."

Name game: The sponsorship deals

Surrey County Cricket Club The Oval to The Kia Oval

The south London cricket ground has seen nearly as many name changes as it has test matches. It has been the Fosters, the AMP, the Brit Insurance and also the plain old Kennington.

Wigan Atheletic JJB Stadium to the DW Stadium

Many Wigan fans were outraged that their new stadium was named after a sports shop. Some were angrier still when businessman David Whelan acquired naming rights and stamped his initials on the ground in 2009.

York City Bootham Crescent to KitKat Crescent

Lower league strugglers York City endured the ignominy of being England's only football club with a ground named after a chocolate bar for five years after signing a deal with Nestle in 2005. Its name has since reverted to Bootham Crescent.

FC Dallas Frisco Soccer and Entertainment Complex to Pizza Hut Park

The £80m, 20,500-seater venue was acquired by the restaurant chain, whose headquarters are in nearby Addison, Texas. In summer when the mercury rises supporters wryly call the stadium "the Oven".

NYNEX Arena to the Manchester Evening News Arena in Manchester

In a rare occurrence of sponsorship going right, when the local paper linked up with the now-famous venue in 1998, the abbreviation "the MEN" caught on and is known by fans worldwide.

The Ford Amphitheatre, Tampa, Florida to The 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre

The 20,000 capacity American music venue, below, which has played host to the likes of Sting, the Foo Fighters and The Cure, got its not very rock and roll name from its legal referral service sponsor.

Charlie Cooper


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