There’s been some debate over whether Newcastle United will be successful or not when it comes to selling the naming rights to St. James’ Park (sorry, I can’t bring myself to call it the Sports Direct Arena) in time for the 2012-13 season. Many who know better than me seem to think that Mike Ashley is on a hiding to nothing, but personally I can’t see the ground retaining the red and blue branding from long.
Some are rightly sceptical of the club’s assessment that the Sports Direct branding is only a stop gap until a company can stump up the requested sum. We’ve been told similar before, however there does seem to be a degree of logic behind this latest move. Any alteration to the St. James’ Park moniker was going to prove extremely controversial and cause a PR crisis for the first organisation that decided to become a title sponsor of the stadium. Renaming the ground the Sports Direct Arena until the end of the season doesn’t just provide Mike Ashley with free advertising, but it will take the sting out of any protests allowing the future sponsorship deal to be met with a smaller grumble of discontent than it would’ve been had there been no transitional period.
It seems to me that the key to success could lie with who the club is courting. If in two months’ time (when we’re told a decision needs to be made) there is still a large amount of negative publicity surrounding the name change then this will almost certainly put off companies who do the majority of their work within the United Kingdom. There are more obvious benefits for an organisation that has a presence in a variety of territories and is less likely to be negatively impacted by any coordinated boycott from Newcastle supporters. The Premier League is watched by over 600 million people worldwide and beamed to over 200 countries making it the most watched sporting league in the world. If the club can continue its good form and remain in a position where European football remains a real possibility then the chances of a sponsor being sourced must increase.
We’ll not know whether Newcastle’s venture into rebranding St. James’ Park has worked until late January at the earliest. Needless to say if they do manage to pull this one of it’ll prove that nothing is sacred in football and the floodgate for namechanges will be flung open.