EXCLUSIVE: Mike Ashley ends 120 years of history by changing St James' Park to the Sports Direct Arena
Published 23:00 09/11/11 By Simon Bird
Newcastle will today controversially end 120 years of history and scrap the St James’ Park stadium name.
Owner Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias are renaming the venue the Sport Direct Arena.
And they have kicked off the search for a £15 million combined shirt and stadium sponsorship deal with global companies.
The move is likely to spark anger among Geordie fans and bring charges of wrecking a piece of Tyneside heritage.
But Newcastle’s chiefs argue they need to tap into the lucrative blue-chip branding market - with money raised reinvested in Alan Pardew’s squad, and keeping ticket prices down.
Ashley first announced plans to sell the naming rights to St James’s Park in October 2009, and a watered down version SportsDirect@St James’s Park has been used ever since, maintaining the historical link.
But United have tested that concept and potential sponsors have shied away - demanding complete stadium rebranding as the preferred option.
The stadium naming rights will be sold as a package with the shirt sponsorship - because Northern Rock, the current name on United’s strip have decided not to renew their deal when it expires in May.
Newcastle hope to raise the equivalent of buying a decent young player every season from the deal.
The Sports Direct Arena, as St James’s Park will now be known as from this morning, will “showcase” what is on offer for new sponsors.
Newcastle know that the plan will reignite the fury of two years ago when the idea was mooted. That even triggered an Early Day Motion in Parliament signed by MPs.
A senior United source last night said the move was to maximise revenue and push annual turnover beyond the £100 million mark.
A source said: “We are not disrespecting the history or heritage or the fans. We are doing this to keep ticket prices down - we have already had two popular offers for season tickets, the 10 year deals and the recent deal for the rest of the season.”
Newcastle want to fill the stadium this season with an average of 49-50,000 near sell outs and have tried to do ticket deals to help generate near sell out crowds and extra atmosphere.
United believe with extra revenue and careful buying of players they can eventually compete with the likes of Spurs nibbling away behind the top four or five.
The club hierarchy will ask to be trusted on their latest move, after the success of other unpopular changes including sacking Chris Hughton last season.
They insist the money raised will be reinvested in the club and not taken out as profit.
A source said: “It is a golden opportunity and something we have to explore.”