The damning criticisms have included the fact that it’s very difficult to rename existing stadia in the UK, that it has trampled on over 100 years of proud history and that the value of the rights will be negligible anyway. The media’s response to similar plans aired by Chelsea has been relatively subdued.
There are a several issues that have gone unreported that make Mike Ashley’s (Newcastle’s owner) plans appear even more questionable and Chelsea’s more plausible.
First, it is important to understand that Newcastle United is a strong brand in its own right. Its large, passionate fan base is one of the key brand strengths, its proud history is another and part of that history is its home at St James’ Park.
The current likelihood of a major international company wanting to take naming rights is very low and given that Northern Rock has just announced termination of its deal with the club could devalue a shirt sponsorship deal.
With the team doing well in the Premiership, it is currently in third place without having the huge player investment of other teams competing for the top spots, the mood at St James’ Park should be positive. Instead the club has been mired in anger and ridicule.
The sponsorship community is now also awaiting the outcome of Chelsea’s attempt to sell rights to its Stamford Bridge stadium. It remains to be seen whether this will be successful and there are certain to be strong voices of disapproval among the fans. If the club can achieve a good deal for its rights, it will break new ground. No other club in the UK has managed to sell rights for a major existing venue in football, nor indeed has this happened internationally where the culture of naming rights is similar to that of the UK.
Chelsea will certainly have a better chance of succeeding than Newcastle.