Newcastle to return to St. James’ Park
Newcastle will play their home games at St James’ Park once again after payday loans company wonga.com snapped up the naming rights to the stadium.
The Magpies announced a four-year sponsorship deal with Wonga which will see the company’s logo worn on their shirts from next season and £1.5million ploughed into the club’s Academy and the Newcastle United Foundation Enterprise Scheme.
However, they left it to their new sponsors to reveal that they had also bought the naming rights to the 52,000-capacity stadium and, having listened to the reaction of fans when news of a potential agreement emerged at the weekend, have ended a controversial period in the club’s recent history.
A spokesman for Wonga said: "We listened over the last three days and we saw what really matters to the fans.
"Football is an emotional sport and it is obviously really important to them. We listened to what they wanted and that is why we did it."
Owner Mike Ashley sparked fury in November last year when he revealed that the name of the stadium had been changed to the Sports Direct Arena, after his sportswear company, in a bid to showcase the potential for a ground sponsor.
Fans who were just starting to come to terms with his unique style of ownership after seeing him preside over the Magpies’ return to the top flight, accused the owner of riding roughshod over the club’s history and tradition.
Managing director Derek Llambias insisted the move was born out of financial necessity and could net Newcastle up to £10million a year.
The weekend’s speculation prompted an equally vociferous reaction from supporters, and insiders insisted there was no chance that the stadium would take on the Wonga name.
However, while the shirt sponsorship deal was expected, the company’s decision to buy the naming rights came as more of a surprise, and their decision to return them to the fans could prove a masterstroke.
The value of the deal has not been disclosed, and nor has that of the arrangement which will see Wonga replace Virgin Money as the club’s lead commercial sponsor.
Managing director Derek Llambias said: "We are building a club that can regularly compete for top honors at the highest level.
"As everyone knows, a strong commercial program is vital to this goal and I am delighted to welcome Wonga into the fold as our lead commercial partner, alongside Puma and Sports Direct.
"Throughout our discussions, Wonga’s desire to help us invest in our young playing talent, the local community and new fan initiatives really impressed us and stood them apart from other candidates."
Wonga also has existing sponsorship deals with npower Championship Blackpool and Scottish Cup winners Hearts, and has confirmed they will continue to support both clubs.
Founder and chief executive officer Errol Damelin said: "We are really proud to be involved with Newcastle United.
"It is one of the biggest and most important clubs in the UK by any measure and has a fantastic following around the world.
"We are also really excited about investing in future stars both on and off the field.
"The Academy and the Enterprise Scheme gives us the opportunity to make a big difference."
Newcastle announced last week that its current deal with Virgin Money would lapse at the end of the season, a year earlier than planned, after the club exercised an option to call time on it.
Civic leaders and MPs from the region were not impressed, however, with the club’s choice of sponsors.
Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, said the deal represented a "profit at any price culture" at the club and warned of the possible social consequences.
He said: "I’m appalled and sickened that they would sign a deal with a legal loan shark.
"We see the devastating consequences of people getting into financial difficulty and we spend a lot of money each year helping people who are in debt through companies like this.
"It’s a sad indictment of the profit at any price culture at Newcastle United. We are fighting hard to tackle legal and illegal loan sharking and having a company like this right across the city on every football shirt that’s sold undermines all our work."
Forbes said he feared the need for debt support in the city could now increase and that he will write to the club and ask them to help pay for it.
He said: "I fear the long-term social consequences of the decision and I will be writing to Mike Ashley and asking for him to fund the extra debt advice that we will need to provide as a result.
"Newcastle United is a role model for thousands of people so what they do matters. It sets the tone for the city and I don’t want this to be a city built on an image of cheap and irresponsible debt."
Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck, is a season ticket holder at the club but has said he will now not set foot in the stadium.
He said: "A city like Newcastle and the region should not have any ties with an organization like Wonga. "This business makes profits off the back of deprived people who are desperate and who are the most vulnerable in society.
"It’s an absolute outrage and I now won’t set foot into the stadium."
Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Central, tweeted: "Some of the richest young men in Newcastle to wear shirts calling on the poorest to go to a legal loan shark."