St James Park, will always be St James Park to me. This is not because I am a diehard Geordie, indeed I have no real connection with Newcastle. St James Park will always be St James Park to me though because of what it represents. When you remove the fans, the clubs history and the passion that drives it you are left with nothing but a commodity.
Firstly it is worth noting that this move is madness even from a business point of view. The move to rename the stadium the “Sports Direct Arena” has not earned the club a penny. The only noticeable beneficiary from this move is Newcastle United Chairman, Mike Ashley – who is also the owner of Sports Direct. The justification that it is ‘showcasing’ the corporate sponsorship is based on the bizarre assumption that potential sponsors don’t have the mental capacity to imagine what it might be like to have a stadium named after them. Newcastle seems to have offered Sport Direct months of free advertising for little in return.
Significantly this move has been shown to have near universal opposition from the fans. It is not in the fans interests, nor is it in the clubs. Assuming Ashley’s master plan works and he sells the stadium naming rights with the shirt sponsorship for 10 million quid, what has he really gained – a third of Andy Carroll. By selling off over one hundred years of history, alienating a fan base and by appearing self interested Mike Ashley has managed to gain the club the equivalent of a half decent defender. Not a great bit of business in my mind. Millions of pounds don’t go far in the modern game.
This however continues the debate as if football is a commodity, and that this move could somehow be justified if it made Newcastle a small windfall. This argument is dangerous to the long term health of the game, the club and its surrounding communities.
If you make football clubs malleable to your financial desires then you lose what binds so many different so many societies together. If a club breaks down into simply being a financier’s play thing then it will soon lose the passion that binds its
supporters. Football communicates in a way no other force can in society. There is a reason for this and it isn’t simply the shared appreciation of watching skilled sportsman play and exciting sport. It is shared humanity, identity and passion. Humans are social beings who embrace public shared identities. What Ashley has done is attack the humanity, the identity and the passion that provide the bedrock of Newcastle United FC. This is not good for the club, Newcastle or the wider game.
We have seen stadiums renamed, clubs relocated and players sold to the highest bidder. What is left of the game?