Thursday, November 10, 2011

Name changer

OK, quick quiz question: who plays their football at the King Power Stadium? (Answer at the bottom of the page.)

Stadium naming is an emotive issue - rebranding something which is synonymous with a club is a difficult task, one which clubs typically tread very carefully around, for fear that they will upset a vast swathe of their fans. Can you imagine the furore if players walked past a sign as they headed for the pitch against Liverpool which instead of saying "This is Anfield" said "This is the [Your name here] Arena"? There's no history there. No soul. No inspiration for the home team or fear for the away team. It just doesn't work.

Until today, the only stadia for which naming rights have so far been granted are those which have recently been built such as the Emirates, the Etihad, the Reebok - all Premier League grounds, all relatively new replacements for antiquated parts of the club's history reflecting the commercial reality of the new chapter in the club's life.

Not for our club, however, where once the club played at St James' Park, officially at least our club will now play its home games at the Sports Direct Arena in a bid to showcase to potential sponsors the kind of profile they can get by sponsoring our ground. Presumably Sports Direct won't be paying for this, though, what with Jabba owning that particular brand (which as a result of this announcement gets a nice bit of free publicity in the run up to Christmas).

We all knew that the good run had to end a some point. It was simply too much to hope that Jabba and Llambiarse had learnt their lessons, that we could all pull together and as a consequence see great things happen. Initiatives to draw fans back to St James' Park (such as cheap season tickets for mates of existing season ticket holders) were working. As a club, while we as fans hadn't forgotten the sins of the past, we were at least moving forward together. Then this bombshell is dropped.

Evidently though, Jabba doesn't care. Llambiarse doesn't care. If they think they can screw a bit more money out of a sponsor (and Jabba can garner a bucketload of free advertising for his own shitty company in the meantime), then the fans, the history, it can all be ignored.

The question is, will it change?

For fans, it will always be St James' Park, in much the same way as the majority still refer to the Leazes and Gallowgate Ends despite the fact that both were renamed years ago. It will be interesting to see how the mainstream media react - will they stick with St James' Park (as they did when Jabba tried the whole @ St James' Park rebrand a couple of years ago), or will they be compelled to start referring to the Sports Direct Arena in match reports etc?Hopefully, the groundswell of public opinion will be such that this latest attempt to sell off the soul of our club will die away (and, having just paid for new signage on the East Stand, will a further sign be going up anytime soon I wonder?).

Am I surprised that Jabba has tried again to rebrand our ground? No. Do I think it's disgraceful? Of course. Will I use the new name? Will I fuck. Will anyone else? Who knows?

It's the last question that Jabba is pinning his hopes upon, in his bid to increase income streams. Llambiarse reckons it could be worth £8-10 million per year. If that helps the team grow, I suppose I should grudgingly welcome it, but as with the sale of Rocky I suspect we won't see any of the money being spent on headline sums to strengthen the team, rather it represents a means of improving our balance sheet and thereby making us more attractive when Jabba comes to sell. (I suppose we should at least be grateful we've not followed Wigan's lead and tried to call it the MA Arena.)

In the meantime, once the outrage has subsided, it will be interesting to see what if there are any takers and whether anything actually changes. I hope that the answer will be "no".

Quiz answer: Leicester City, whose relatively new stadium was previously named after local crisp maker Walkers, but which has changed its name in line with their new Thai owners' principal brand (spot a theme?). Locally, of course, it's still known as the Walkers, which rather proves the point that original names stick, whatever signage you put above the door.

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Blogger Unknown said...

First check out the second image at Miami Geordie...

This quote from Llambias jumped out at me:

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.

I'm just a computer geek from the states, but... What you're telling me is that no one jumped at the opportunity to upset an international fan base? I wonder why...

Also, horrible name...

2:27 pm  
Anonymous Matthew C said...

Do you have no fear that you will have to once again eat your words as you have done many times over?

All this blog seems to do these days is criticise every decision Mike Ashley makes.

I will admit that as a Newcastle fan I think that the name is terrible and a piece of history is dying and all I can do is hope that when the naming rights are finally sold we get a sponsor whose name doesn't grate as much as the current one e.g. Pukka Stadium...

However I think MA has earned the right for us to at least wait and see how this will pan out, rather than taking the traditional path of the Newcastle fan and immediately taking off our replica shirts and standing outside the Sports Direct Arena :) protesting on a week day.

Many news sources (including this blog) have criticised MA for the decisions he has made in the past. But what he has done is improved our team and our club as a whole.

Just think back on how much people whined when Carroll, Joey and Nolan were sold, can you honestly say you miss them now?

I wont say MA has been perfect but don't you think he has earned a respite for what he has achieved so far this season, and that we should give him some time?

9:33 am  
Blogger Paul said...

Hi Matthew,

If all we do is criticise Jabba, how is it that we also end up eating our words?

Where a good decision is made, or one which ultimately proves to be a good decision even when it initially looked a bad one, we'd like to think we're big enough to hold our hands up to that.

However, if a decision looks like being a stinker, we're also going to express our opinion accordingly.

Attempting to rename St James' Park not only looks a stinker, it is a stinker, and the way in which the whole thing has been handled by the club has been terrible.

I for one am not going to sit by and say nothing if I see a bad decision being made.

This blog is a forum for me and Ben to express our views on the club. Where we get something wrong, we'll hold our hands up and say so rather than ignore the obvious. However, on this particular issue I cannot see any justification other than avarice to justify the attempt at renaming.

If you have some insight in to why you think it's a good idea, I'd love to hear it.

3:35 pm  
Anonymous Matthew C said...

Sorry if I sounded like I was criticising the blog and you guys,
you are completely right that everyone should be entitled to express their opinions on the club and if they so choose put them up in the public eye for discussion.

It's simply that I feel people have labelled MA the "bad guy" and will not even consider the whole picture before slagging him off and chanting Ashley out.

I'm not actually a MA apologist and he has made some shocking errors in judgement in the past (Keegan...) but I personally feel that he is turning our club around and trying to run it in a way that is sustainable, something that was impossible under Fat Fred, who for all the money spent was simply running Newcastle Utd into the ground, in the public eye, on the pitch and financially.

For the stadium issue, I cannot see how this can be labelled as pure greed.
According to reports MA has paid off about £100 million of our debt out of his own pocket so far so I cannot see how we can begrudge him attempting to possibly gain an extra £10 million a year in revenue for the club.
We simply cannot compete with the Man Cities and Chelsea's of the Premiership and need to grub around for all the possible revenue we can get in order to strengthen our club and take it forward.
This I would say is doubly true with the financial fair play rules looming on the horizon and will allow us to pay larger wages (hopefully keeping our better players now) and also invest in new talent.

However I would say that changing the name of the stadium before we have actually managed to find a sponsor is galling as we receive next to no benefit for it, and of course everything I have stated above is reliant on MA actually pumping the money back into the club and continuing our current model of buying up cheap French talent.

6:22 pm  
Blogger Paul said...

Only last month, we were giving Jabba credit for the improvement in our finances (

If you plough back through the archive you'll see we were no fans of the previous regime which would undoubtedly have seen us in a far worse financial situation than we now find ourselves.

However, I can't accept that abandoning years of history for the sake of a few quid (and that assumes we ever find a sponsor willing to pay for naming rights) is worthwhile.

In my view, somethings shouldn't be up for grabs, regardless of the price.

10:38 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

Just as an interesting side note to all of this... they better not waist too much money hanging 'Sports Direct Arena' signs as they're going to have to come down in July for the 2012 Olympics. Randomly, I remembered them having to de-brand the Hockey arena in Vancouver for the 2010 games.

9:47 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

Matthew, it'd be interesting to know how many fans feel the same way as you. I'd agree that this season thus far has effectively bought Ashley a reasonable amount of goodwill - or at least has helped fans to begin to forgive or forget the sins of the past. For both Paul and I (at least), though, this still doesn't excuse the tawdry act of saddling the stadium with a sponsored name for the sake of bringing in a few more quid. It's the description of "St James' Park" as a commercially unviable name - surely association with one of the most famous old grounds in British football should be enough?

As Paul's mentioned, we've given the current regime credit for balancing the books and being at the helm when we've employed a scout with his finger on the pulse, able to grab bargains from around Europe. But it's true we've often been critical (we feel with some justification) of other decisions they've made - Keegan, Kinnear and Hughton foremost among them. (I'm not sure we're yet in a position to judge whether we should be eating humble pie over our reactions to the departures of Nolan and Barton). And in this instance we're calling it as we see it: sacrilege.

4:32 pm  

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