Last week’s announcement that Mike Ashley is inviting bids for the naming rights for St James’ Park was met with widespread dismay from the fans of Newcastle United. Renaming the stadium is seen by many as tantamount to auctioning off the club’s soul to the highest bidder. Managing director Derek Llambias has now pledged that the current stadium name would be incorporated into any sponsorship deal, but this is unlikely to appease the long-suffering Toon faithful.
Frankly, many fans will take Llambias’ pledge with a pinch of salt and would not be surprised if the stadium name is changed to something completely unrecognisable. The Newcastle hierarchy are not trusted by the fans; there have been too many broken promises over the last eighteen months and too many occasions where actions have been taken by the board without the best interests of the club in mind. The fans have been misled by the club in the past; the recent judgement that Kevin Keegan was constructively dismissed by the club is illustrative of this. It was shown that the board’s press releases confirming that Keegan has the final say on transfers were untrue and that ‘for the Club to have made these statements, when they were, according to the Club, untrue, was,’ in the Premier League Manager’s Arbitration Tribunal’s view, ‘simply to store up trouble for the future’ . With this recent history, it is no wonder that there is an atmosphere of mistrust surrounding the club’s public communications.
The idea of a sponsorship deal that retains the St James’ Park name seems like a sensible business decision. Ashley believes that a deal of this nature could bring in significant funds each season that could be set aside for player purchases. The current squad lacks pace and creativity, which is not a massive problem in the Championship, but if promotion is achieved; significant investment in the playing staff will be necessary. However, any deal that involves modifying the name of the stadium will be viewed as another attempt by Ashley to dilute the identity of the club. For any previous owner of the club, attempting to complete a deal of this nature would have been risky, but for Ashley it is suicidal; a man viewed with such suspicion by the fans should be attempting to regain their trust, rather than marginalising their opinions.
The latest quotes attributed to Mr. Llambias suggest that this is yet another occasion where those that are running the club have had to backtrack, after showing that once again they are incapable of relating to the average Newcastle United fan. The two groups continue to operate on two completely different wavelengths.