Mike Ashley at it again at Newcastle
Mike Ashley spends his days wandering around St James’ Park - sorry, the Sports Direct Arena - looking for assets to sell. You can see it, him and Derek Llambias treading the pitch perimeter and guessing at ‘how much they could get for the penalty spot’.
Look, I know that naming rights are part of football now, but not quite to the extent that the Cockney Mafia insist that they are. The ‘need to keep with the times’ will doubtless be used to explain away the need to shed the St James’ Park moniker from the stadium, but in reality the Bolton and Arsenal examples that will be used to temper fan anger are ill-fitting.
Those were newly-built stadiums that incorporated an entitlement sponsor to part-subsidise the costs of construction. A new stadium, with no history and no memories. Fine, fans won’t like it, but most will probably appreciate its necessity.
Stripping the name from a 119-year-old stadium and whoring its identity to the highest-bidder is a little different. Yes, yes, it’s a new revenue stream, but enough already - why must we tolerate everything becoming so relentlessly corporate?
Like everything that Ashley and Llambias do at Newcastle, it’s predicated on the interests of the ownership. Over the next few days, doubtless we’ll hear about how the funds raised will be used to support the ambition of an upwardly mobile club - I’ll believe that when I’ll see it. A branded stadium leads allows for a more valuable football club, that’s what this is actually about. Anybody who hopes to see those funds invested in the team is going to end up sorely disappointed, that I promise you.
I’m not going to pretend that Mike Ashley’s involvement doesn’t make my reaction to this disproportionately poisonous, but that’s with good reason - he doesn’t have enough credit in the benefit of the doubt bank. I sincerely feel for every Newcastle fan, because no matter how promising the team, no matter how well they perform, Ashley will always be capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Don’t you see - all the talk about ‘self-sufficiency’ is just rhetoric. Ashley is whoring Newcastle United and its identity to price-up his commodity.
This is not an overly-romantic view of the game, the need for evolution within the sport - and its economy - is not lost on me, but there’s something so crude about what’s happening in the North East. Remember, this was something that Ashley promised would never happen in 2009, and that ‘St James’ Park’ would remain - at least in part - regardless of a title sponsor.
Like everything else, just words - reneged on for the sake of a financial short-cut.
Newcastle are flying, and the side is exceeding everybody’s expectation, but - as ever - Ashley is the dark cloud on the horizon.
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