If Mike Ashley decides to rename Newcastle United and call them ‘Sports Direct United’ or ‘Sports Direct Newcastle’, he could!
Adam believes (as do many others) that Ashley and Llambias don’t really want a sponsor of the ground and indeed that when next season kicks off, the name ‘Sports Direct’ will remain on the branding of St.James’ Park AND on the team shirts.
‘Mr Ashley, I suggest, is only interested in furthering his SD brand, and this means securing as much exposure as possible for it. Having a Premier League football club is one thing but it does not serve this objective. Calling the club’s ground the SDA goes some way to satisfying this objective but it’s not capitalising on the opportunity, maximising the potential. No, to do this two more things need to happen. Shirt sponsorship is a given and if it does not happen within 6 months I’d be amazed.
I have heard it said that what Mr Ashley really wants to do is promote his Sorry Drapery brand in Asian markets, especially to the English Premier League-mad Indians and Chinese. Surely having the club renamed as SDU or SDN would make much more of a splash than only having the ground and shirt branded in such a way.
I thought I would test out my hypothesis by asking the FA and the Premier League about the rules and regulations for name-changing of an English football club. Surely they would object? Surely there would be some regulation preventing such blatant commercialisation of the proud traditions of our noble sport? Would they really stand by and let Sky United play Nintendo Town in the EPL? Well, you may be surprised to hear that neither of them would, or even could, object!
The FA’s response (16/11/11) was, “The FA have no say in this matter I’m afraid and therefore you would need to raise your concerns with the club directly”. The PL response (17/11/11) was, “Technically if a club wanted to change their name they could, however, we would be very surprised if Newcastle United, with their long history, would change their club name. The Premier League is owned by the 20 shareholders, the clubs, and like every other League in England comes under the jurisdiction of the FA. The Premier League does not make money for itself; it is in fact a non-profit making organisation with any money not spent on administration reverting to the 20 Clubs. We would not be able to veto a decision like this as it does not come under our rules”.
Well, that makes you proud of our regulatory bodies doesn’t it? Still think it couldn’t happen? Step forward Llansantffraid FC. With thanks to Wikipedia (to check on the history). In 1996, Llansantffraid won the Welsh Cup, qualifying for the European Cup Winners’ Cup and a local computer company, Total Network Solutions of Oswestry, opportunistically arranged a £250,000 sponsorship deal which involved incorporating the company name into the club name, playing in 1996 as Total Network Solutions Llansantffraid F.C.and then in 1997 as simplyTotal Network Solutions F.C., the first instance in Britain of a football club naming itself after its sponsor only. The club would possibly still be so-named had not the club’s sponsor, Total Network Solutions, been taken over by British Telecom in 2006, with the sponsorship necessarily lapsing and the club being renamed as The New Saints.
So, seemingly the only thing stopping NUFC becoming SDU/SDN is Mr Ashley. I sadly think the question of ‘could he’ is answered; yes, he could. The next question is ‘would he’? What would happen if prior to the start of the 2012/2013 season, Mr Ashley was to announce that henceforward, the team playing at the SDA would be known as SDN? Lots of anger, lots of media coverage, season tickets not being renewed, threats against the club, boycotts and a half(?)-filled SDA, questions in the House, meltdown of the radio phone-ins…hang on, what was that about lots of media coverage? If Mr Ashley’s sole reason for owning NUFC is exposure to the SD brand, then why on earth wouldn’t he do it? This really concerns me – is it so unthinkable as to be completely absurd, or is it possible or even inevitable that this is precisely Mr Ashley’s intention/end-game if you will? If it is, is there really anything that anyone (fans, city councilors, MPs, the British media) could do about it? It certainly doesn’t look like the FA or PL would do anything to prevent it, as far as I know there is no other regulatory body involved.
Quoting from Mr Llambias from his ‘discussion’ with fans in a Newcastle bar earlier in November, as reported in the Sunday Mirror 13/11/11, “You guys don’t understand how f****** horrible we can be”. Well, some of us Mr Llambias fear that we understand you only too well.