Saturday, October 13, 2012

Cash, no questions

So I go away on holiday for a week and return to find my club's been sold to the devil. Well, not quite, but Wonga certainly aren't the sort of company I'm keen to see us keep. Paul's given his views here, but I thought I'd add my two cents.

I guess we were prepared for the move by the unceremonious dumping of Virgin Money. At the time I noted Llambiarse's comments that the new agreement with the then unnamed sponsor "represents an excellent commercial deal for both parties" and commented that this was a case of "cold, hard cash" talking. And indeed it was.

You don't need to point to the fact that the deal might upset our contingent of Muslim first-teamers - namely Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba, HBA and Mr T - by contravening Sharia law to be critical of it. (Incidentally, there must be plenty of other Muslim players who currently sport the names of gambling companies and alcohol firms on their shirts. Indeed, don't Virgin Money charge interest?) The simple fact is that we are, in effect, taking money from hard-up families who find themselves in tough predicaments with little or no room for manoeuvre, just to line our own pockets.

There can be grand talk about funding youth development and the restoration of the St James' Park name, but it doesn't get rid of the very bad taste left in the mouth by the basic facts. David Conn's Guardian article, mentioned by Paul, is telling in that of late the Witchfinder General of football finance has had nothing but praise for Jabba's running of the club - and now, quite understandably, he's very much of a different opinion.

Some of those who have backlashed against the backlash have pointed out that Wonga already sponsor two football clubs, Blackpool and Hearts, who weren't singled out for criticism for striking their own deals. Admittedly that's a bit unfair, but it has to be conceded that we're considerably more high profile than either of them and Wonga's name on our shirts will give the company far more prominence, so the greater glare of media scrutiny is inevitable. The deal is a tacit endorsement on our part of a firm - and indeed the so-called "legal loan sharking" industry - already under fire from consumers' groups for unethical practice and unscrupulous behaviour.

In the wake of a recent blog post on the ethics of sponsorship in football, I defended our previous association with Northern Rock, one which continued even when the ailing company had been nationalised, on the grounds that their board were convinced the deal offered Northern Rock - a valued local business and employer - the best opportunity of rebuilding its brand and reputation. This time I'm not sure there's any defence - Jabba really should be more careful about who he leaps into bed with. Like most Toon fans (and Conn), I've had a lot more time for him of late, but this smacks of one of his sporadic but spectacular mistakes (see also: sacking Keegan, rebranding the stadium). Having the Sports Direct logo plastered on our shirts would have been preferable.

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