With everything that has gone before, fans have long lived in trepidation of Sports Direct branding appearing on the Newcastle United shirts.

A new rule change could see that become a reality.

The club put out some information on Saturday that revealed they still weren’t in a position to confirm who the ‘main shirt sponsor’ would be when the 2017/18 season kicks off.

For some time now it was clear that Wonga would be in no position to renew their deal after the current one ends this summer, the tightening of rules in their industry leading to a dramatic collapse in their fortunes.

Despite this, the club could/would only say that ‘positive progress has been made’ and ‘an announcement to be made as soon as it is a position to do so.

Saturday 25 February 2017  – Headlines from Fans Forum meeting that was held on Thursday 23 February:

‘New sponsor

The club confirmed that positive progress has been made in relation to a new main shirt sponsor for the 2017/18 campaign, with an announcement to be made as soon as it is in a position to do so.’

This delay in any deal being announced could well be linked to whether or not Newcastle will be returning to the Premier League next season, in more ways than one.

Obviously having your branding on a shirt in the Premier League with its worldwide intense reach is much more valuable than in the second tier, so maybe no surprise that the club are waiting to see if they can negotiate a better deal if/when promoted.

Of course a shirt sponsorship could still have been announced by now, with clauses stating the amount of money payable depending on which division.

However, there is another element to the shirt sponsorship which is a major change to previous.

From next season, all Premier League clubs can now sell sponsorship on their shirt sleeves.

Up until their deal ended in summer 2016, the league sponsor, Barclays, appeared on the shirt sleeve of all 20 Premier League clubs.

However, rather than announcing a new league sponsor, the Premier League clubs decided that they could make far more cash in other ways by not having a sponsor.

This current season there is no shirt sponsorship on sleeves but as of next season (2017/18), all 20 PL clubs can sell that space separately, as well as their main sponsor on the front of shirts.

Marketing gurus estimate that the sleeve sponsorship is around 20% of the value of the main branding on the front, which at this moment in time equates to around £10m (20% of £50m) for top clubs such as Manchester United.

Premier League clubs are in talks to share a lucrative sponsor on their shirt sleeves next season.

At least two current Premier League clubs will miss out in the short-term because their current main shirt sponsorship deals include clauses forbidding the appearance of other company logos on their shirts but of course with Newcastle United’s current Wonga deal ending.

So are Newcastle waiting to sell the sleeve sponsorship as part of a whole package along with the usual branding or the front, if promoted.

Or maybe selling it to a separate ‘outside’ sponsor.

Or could Mike Ashley simply put Sports Direct on the sleeve, with or without sponsorship money being paid.

The club’s owner showed with his crass behaviour in renaming St James Park with his own SD branding and no cash going into the club, that he didn’t care what anybody, fans or the media, thought about him. At the time he used the less than believable excuse that he had put his own company up for the rebranding of St James Park, as that was supposedly needed first to then attract an outside sponsor who would pay for the privilege.

It must be a massive temptation for Mike Ashley to put Sports Direct on the club shirts and as to whether that would mean any extra cash for the club would be in the balance.

It is now 11 months since here at The Mag we picked up on something hidden away in the Newcastle United accounts for 2014/15 when they were released in April 2016.

The extract (see below) acknowledged that nothing had been paid by Sports Direct previously BUT that NUFC and Sports Direct were ‘in the process of agreeing an arms length rate for these services, which of course includes the total eyesore that is inside St James Park with the SD branding disfiguring our magnificent stadium.

The club have not said a single thing about this in the 11 months since, so whether extra cash is currently flowing into the club from Sports Direct is a total unknown, plus of course if there is money – whether it is truly a market rate being paid.

Sadly, the press have not pushed this at all with the club and it highlights the weak nature of the media when dealing with the club these days. Surely the question(s) should be asked of NUFC by those with access and a relationship with the club and their response(s) reported back to us.

Whilst Rafa Benitez is doing a tremendous job, very very little else appears to have changed in the running of Newcastle United.

The same people running the club in exactly the same way, apart from Rafa getting on with his area of responsibility.

Concerns were raised when the block was put on Rafa’s targets in January, even players coming in on loan, whilst all the other promotion contenders made signings.

That though was just a small reminder that whilst Mike Ashley was so desperate he had no choice but to accept Rafa Benitez’ demands last summer in an attempt to get straight back to the Premier League, the bigger picture is that we are yet to see any visible signs of a more ambitious and professionally run club, apart from when it comes to Rafa’s input. The state of the art training complex due to be built a couple of years ago, that was going to allow Newcastle United to compete in the future, has still not had a start made on it.

Lets all hope that above all else, Rafa Benitez is still in charge come August, no matter what other madness/cynical behaviour still exists elsewhere in the club.

From April 2016 on The Mag:

Extract from the 2014/15 Newcastle United Football Accounts

‘During the current and prior year, advertising and promotional services were provided to Sports Direct International being a company associated with the ultimate owner of the company, MJW Ashley.

No consideration has been paid by Sports Direct International for these services to date but Sports Direct International and the Company are in the process of agreeing an arms length rate for these services and the Company anticipates receiving payment for these services in the future.

During the current and prior year, advertising and promotional services were provided to companies associated with MR MJW Ashley, the ultimate shareholder of the Company’sultimate parent undertaking MASH Holdings Limited. No consideration was paid or payable for these services.’