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Comment: Mike Ashley confirms decision to sell off Newcastle United’s future

6 years ago
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The one advantage Newcastle United still have over all but two other clubs will shortly disappear, thanks to Mike Ashley’s short-sighted policy, or asset stripping, depending on how you see it.

Which other club that hasn’t won a domestic trophy in 59 years and had won only five league matches in the last ten months, would have still attracted fifty two thousand fans for a dour relegation battle like Leicester on Saturday?

Rather than this fanatical loyalty being embraced and worked with by Mike Ashley for the future health of the football club, it is being ruthlessly exploited for short-term gains. Then when the owner sooner or later bails out, he will leave a club that is way behind all of its competitors on and off the pitch.

Spurs, Manchester City, Everton and Liverpool are all at various stages with plans to expand their existing stadiums, or build new ones, which will see all four join Manchester United and Arsenal as having grounds with bigger capacities than Newcastle United. Plus West Ham’s move into the Olympic Stadium as tenants will also see their capacity exceed Newcastle’s.

All of these clubs see that this is a time of dramatic growth for English football, ever increasing fortunes are coming into the Premier League and the next TV deals will send these figures into a whole new dimension.

It is a time when all ambitious clubs are looking to the future and realising they have to run pretty quickly just to stand still.

Just look at the investment clubs such as Swansea, Southampton and Hull have put into their squads over the last two seasons compared to Newcastle United.

Newcastle’s commercial revenues are being suffocated by the free advertising dished out to Mike Ashley’s empire, meaning pretty much total lack of other sponsors apart from the Wonga deal which damages Newcastle United as a ‘brand’. Combined with all but totally disappeared merchandising profits, it paints a sorry picture.

The fans though are by far Newcastle United’s big selling point as always, plus of course THE reason why we are still saddled with Mike Ashley as owner. He wouldn’t still be here if it was like Aston Villa and he had banks of empty seats behind his adverts beamed out to the world.

So while all of these other teams are looking to invest both on AND off the pitch in strengthening for the future, we are instead just dealt a load of PR nonsense and constantly spun stories from media close to/compliant with Mike Ashley.

When it comes to developing their very best stadiums for the future then massive figures are set to be spent elsewhere, with estimates of £400m at Tottenham, £200m at both Manchester City and Everton, plus £150m at Liverpool.

Maximising their potential and making every effort to attract as many fans as possible to watch their team, build their fanbase and put together as many factors as possible that will ensure they have the best chance of competing and strengthening each coming season.

Then we have Newcastle United and Mike Ashley.

At Monday night’s Fans Forum at St.James’ Park, supporter representative Taylor Payne asked;

“Could the club explain why the Gallowgate End cannot be extended as per the Milburn Stand? (In relation to the sale of (lease of) land across Strawberry Place).”

Newcastle United’s head of PR (who also bizarrely doubles up as Fans Liaison Officer) Lee Marshall responded on the club’s behalf in the official minutes;

‘LM referred to the Fans Forum minutes from May 2014. The minutes outlined the club’s view that developing the Strawberry Place site (currently a car park) did not make commercial sense (i.e. increasing the stadium capacity by 6,000 – 8,000 seats at a cost of £30m – £40m), nor did the club own the busy main road which separates the Gallowgate End and the car park in question.

The club stated that this view hasn’t changed and that it was unlikely to change in the short or medium term and potentially long term.’

So while pretty much every major club apart from Arsenal and Manchester United,  who already have bigger capacities, are looking to expand their capacities and horizons, Newcastle don’t see the ‘commercial sense’.

If you take 8,000 seats as costing £40m (according to their figures) then that works out at £5,000 per new seat.

Even if you took that to a very low £500 per seat per season, the seats would pay for themselves within ten years, with other cash generated by the extra paying fans comfortably covering interest charges if you wanted to include them in an Ashley equation.

Of course in reality that £500 per season is ridiculously low and the £40m could be generated far sooner than ten years.

As for filling the seats, if Newcastle United can get 50,000 despite the awful football and general longstanding depression via Ashley’s running (into the ground) of the club, just think what could be achieved on and off the pitch with a bit of realistic ambition inside Newcastle United?

Those extra seats could undoubtedly be filled (how many people do you know who have walked away because of the lack of ambition and disgust at being taken for mugs by Mike Ashley?) and completing three sides of the stadium at the same level would be immense.

As for the total cost of the extra seats, the £30m-£40m estimate equates to not much more than the extra TV revenue Newcastle received as part of the new deals last season, when no players were bought. Then this season, the expenditure on players roughly equates to income from the sale of players such as Debuchy and Cabaye, with the TV money again largely unspent.

Whether any expansion of St.James’ Park should happen at this moment in time is one question, but surely the option could be kept alive at all costs? Surely any decent sane person who believes in Newcastle United potentially being successful in the future must agree with that.

Instead, Mike Ashley continues with his plans to sell the lease on land opposite the Gallowgate End for what is estimated to be no more than a few million pounds.

If this lease is successfully sold and the anticipated development of hotel and/or student accommodation goes ahead, then that will mean no chance of the Gallowgate End and St.James’ Park ever being expanded. Lee Marshall talking of any longer-term decision is totally redundant when Mike Ashley is trying to sell that lease on the land NOW.

Though no doubt Mike Ashley won’t still be around to see the decaying club he has left behind, while those elsewhere who have shown the necessary ambition and duty of care to their clubs’ futures look at Newcastle United as a sad case of what might have been.

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