Newcastle fans and Sports Direct employees must have choked on their cornflakes this morning, as they were treated to the sight of Mike Ashley on the BBC Breakfast sofa on Tuesday morning.
The Newcastle United/SD owner must be really desperate now as the Sports Direct business model has been struggling so badly with each extra episode over the course of the last 12 months and beyond.
The past week had seen the Sports Direct share price crash by 20% (350p to 282p). so Mike Ashley clearly seeing he had no alternative to take this extraordinary step for him, of appearing live on BBC Breakfast TV.
His PR people appeared to have been going for a ‘lovable geezer’ style this morning but it failed badly, with even Mike Ashley describing himself as a ‘PR nightmare’.
When attempting to make himself look as a caring man of the people, Ashley recently showed the media and SD investors around the Sports Direct headquarters and central warehouse. At a staged media opportunity security check, Ashley found that he had to empty his pockets and thus revealed that now infamous massive wad of £50 notes.
No surprise that Ashley has a lot of money but when the whole purpose of the tour was to show that he was contrite and actually cared about his zero hour contract minimum wage tens of thousands of workers, it didn’t exactly hit the right hote.
When asked about that PR gaffe, Mike Ashley this morning responded with the excuse that nobody had told he should check what was in his pockets before the staged PR security check.
Asked about the way he has treated his workers, Mike Ashley used a typical response of having paid out £200m in the last five years, including a rather bizarre claimed example of a ‘cleaning lady’ getting an £80,000 bonus. Ashley once again (purposefully) missing the point that paying massive bonuses to 10% or less of his staff, is no consolation to the other 90% who he has treated so badly.
Much of the rest of his interview saw Ashley yet again claim that he was totally unaware of most of the problems that have existed at Sports Direct for years. Just like in law, ignorance is no defence…and that is if any sane person actually believed him.
At Newcastle United, fans have bizarrely managed to get a decent manager at long last only after Ashley has run the club into the ground once again.
Only then has Mike Ashley been forced to accept that he has to at last agree to do things properly, employ the best person he could (Benitez) and let him do things in the correct way.
Like most of you, I still don’t trust Ashley an inch and it is only Rafa’s presence and the professional job that he is doing which is making a difference. The previous eight years tell us not to trust the owner and we need a lot more evidence than Ashley allowing Rafa Benitez to get on with the job of rescuing the owner’s investment this season.
As for Sports Direct, it is laughable that such a hands on majority shareholder/deputy chairman can claim to have been ignorant of so many of the problems at the company. Yes he won’t know every instance that happens on every shift but he knows fine well the general ‘principles’ and lines that Sports Direct is run on.
He has only reached this point of trying to charm the BBC Breakfast audience after being pursued by MPs and the media (Guardian in particular) for the best part of a year to answer to allegations of mistreatment of workers at Sports Direct.
He fought tooth and nail for this not to happen and be further exposed by public questioning by MPs. Whilst fighting that exposure, there appeared to be precious little/nothing done in that time period to improve the lot of his workers, only when he is forced to do so has Mike Ashley seen fit to act.
As a Newcastle fan, I just hope that Rafa Benitez is here for many years to come to act as a buffer between ourselves and Mike Ashley. We know that just like Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby before him he will fight our corner and not be made a mug of.
Whilst Rafa is there, Ashley is somebody we can put to the back of our minds but I have to say, as and when Rafa Benitez does leave, I would have zero confidence of Mike Ashley appointing another credible Newcastle Manager.
Some highlights of that Mike Ashley appearance on BBC Breakfast:
‘Are you confident that, five years down the line, Sports Direct will be a very different place to the “Victorian workhouse” conditions workers have suffered?’
“In the last five years, Sports Direct have paid out more than £200m in bonuses.
“The cleaning lady got an £80,000 bonus on top of her normal pay. No one (else) in the UK has done that.”
‘Wasn’t that (pulling massive wad of £50 notes out of pocket when giving media tour of his warehouse) a massive PR disaster?’
“That’s why I’ve never tried to do PR, I’m a nightmare for PR.
“No one asked me to check my pockets in case I’d just been to the casino.”
‘How his SD business runs’
“You would be surprised how little I knew about what was going on and that’s really where the failing was.
“How do I know what a night shift does from 12 at night to seven or eight in the morning? I don’t work there on Saturdays and Sundays and there are lots of hours I am not there.
“Should I have known more? Yes. Was I aware of the some of the things that were going on? Absolutely not.”