NEWCASTLE (AFP) – Newcastle fans reacted angrily on Thursday after club bosses announced plans to rename St James Park in a drive to increase revenues at the high-flying Premier League club.
The Magpies are aiming to emulate other clubs such as Arsenal and Manchester City, who have both sold the naming rights to their respective stadiums in recent years to sponsors.
However Newcastle owner Mike Ashley’s bid to rebrand one of the most famous grounds in English football — which has been the club’s home since 1886 — triggered an outcry Thursday.
The Newcastle United Supporters Trust said news that St James’ was to become the Sports Direct Arena proved fans were right to be sceptical of Ashley’s stewardship of the club despite Newcastle’s current high position in the table.
“This latest news about renaming the stadium to the ‘Sports Direct Arena’ clearly demonstrates why they are sceptical,” a statement said.
England cricketer Steve Harmison, a prominent Newcastle fan, meanwhile described the move as an “insult” akin to changing the club’s colours to those of their arch-rivals Sunderland.
“I can only liken it to changing the team’s colours from black and white to red and white and making us look like Sunderland,” Harmison wrote in The Daily Telegraph.
“That’s how big a deal it is. You do wonder whether they would do that if the money was right.
“St James’ Park means everything to me, it is a magical place. It is a special place for every single Newcastle United fan. Players come and go, managers come and go but Newcastle United and St James’ Park stay the same.”
Newcastle’s board has defended the plan, which they hope will eventually tempt a major sponsor to sign a long-term deal.
Managing director Derek Llambias said the deal was essential if Newcastle were to become financially self-sufficient.
“To grow sustainably and allow us to invest in our future, we will need to rely increasingly heavily on commercial income,” Llambias said.
“These are very difficult economic times and the board have a responsibility to maximise all revenue streams for the benefit of the club.
“Stadium rebranding offers a lucrative way for clubs to secure significant additional income.”