The parallels in terms of how Mike Ashley treats Newcastle United and Sports Direct shareholders and staff, grow ever stronger.
It can be summed up in just one word, contempt.
With Newcastle United, Mike Ashley stays well clear of the club, at least on the surface.
He hasn’t been to a Newcastle United home match since Tottenham on the opening day of the 2017/18 season, the weekend when he launched his Sky Sports attack on both Rafa Benitez and the Newcastle fans. One of the most embarrassing ‘interviews’ you could wish to see, presided over by his associate David Craig, the NUFC owner allowed an unchallenged platform to put out his distorted view of everything that was/wasn’t happening at St James Park.
As for the running of the club, Mike Ashley pretends that Lee Charnley makes all the decisions, including what does and doesn’t happen on transfers. That suggestion is laughable, Charnley earning a pittance compared to all of the other executives who DO run Premier League clubs on their owner’s behalf. The last available figures showing Charnley earns less than 3% of what one other PL club top executive gets and less than a quarter of what Sunderland’s top paid executive got at that time.
Instead, it is widely reported that the shadowy figures of Justin Barnes and Keith Bishop are the ones to pull the strings at Newcastle United. Answerable to nobody but Ashley himself and no access given to the media, or indeed fans.
The contempt for fans is obvious, the club’s own official NUFC Fans Forum is a joke, even though the club handpick which supporters are allowed on the forum – rather than voted on by fellow fans, Mike Ashley refused to allow the Fans Forum to meet club officials for the entirety of last season, until safety from relegation was achieved in April. The latest fans forum had been scheduled for over four months but was cancelled on the very eve of the meeting, Ashley never having had any intention of letting the meeting happen with awkward questions set to be asked, particularly with regard to the disgraceful treatment of Rafa Benitez and no net spending allowed on transfers. The claim that the Fans Forum had to be cancelled at such a late point because Lee Charnley was suddenly too busy to make it, was simply laughable.
However, it isn’t just Newcastle fans who Mike Ashley is willing to treat with total contempt.
This Wednesday sees the Sports Direct AGM, the Chief Executive and controlling [61%] shareholder set to be asked all kinds of awkward questions, the one time when SD shareholders get a chance to face him.
Ashley’s response? He has refused to turn up.
The SD supremo telling the shareholders that he is too busy to attend the AGM of a company he controls.
A company that has seen its share price reduce by over 10% (407p on 9 August – 362p at close of business on 9 September), a period of time that has coincided with the football season kicking off and week after week of fan protests attacking Sports Direct by various means online, as well as protesting outside stores.
Sports Direct seen very much as Ashley’s ‘Achilles Heel’, the thing that he really cares about and which is at the heart of where he gets his wealth and power from.
A new report in The Guardian (see below) portrays the City of London’s regulations on controlling bad behaviour as on a similar level to the Premier League’s, or maybe even worse when you consider just how many people’s lives are reliant on such a large business as Sports Direct.
When it comes to those who oppose the tyrant, The Guardian say: ‘Ashley can simply brush them [dissenting shareholders] aside like an alpha silverback gorilla swatting flies.’
Mike Ashley won’t be at the Sports Direct AGM on Wednesday but his controlling block of 61% worth of shares will be, just as his 100% worth of Newcastle United shares sits there, with Newcastle fans feeling the situation is all but hopeless if he refuses to sell the club.
It looks clear that Newcastle fans though are getting to the club’s owner, by targeting that thing he treasures more than anything, Sports Direct.
Who knows what his breaking point will/would be in deciding Newcastle United is more trouble than it is worth to him – but there is only one route to go, to keep up the campaign and help keep interfering in his running of Sports Direct by all legal means available.
‘As the owner of Newcastle United Football Club, Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley is used to being shouted at for 90 minutes by angry people dissatisfied with his stewardship.
Happily, he will face no such ordeal at next week’s Sports Direct annual meeting, thanks to a stroke of genius on his part. He isn’t going to show up.
It’s rather unusual for a company to hold an AGM without the presence of its chief executive, not to mention its largest shareholder.
But then Ashley, who, a court heard, once vomited into a fireplace during a drinking session with business associates, is no ordinary chief executive.
In the retail billionaire’s absence, investors are expected to air grievances about the company’s rather idiosyncratic governance style. The list of shareholder gripes is extensive. Among them is the company’s habit of dishing out huge piles of cash to Ashley’s family members.
Michael Murray, engaged to Ashley’s daughter Anna, was handed a £5m deal as “head of elevation”, in charge of revamping stores. The payout was revealed on the same day as Sports Direct investors were treated to an £85m writedown linked to the company’s investment in Debenhams, a decision that has proved to be another source of irritation.
The familial largesse doesn’t stop there. Independent shareholders had to step in last year to block a proposed £11m payout to Ashley’s brother
Ashley can simply brush them [dissenting shareholders] aside like an alpha silverback gorilla swatting flies.
He owns 61% of Sports Direct, giving him a voting bloc that trumps anyone else’s, and there is nothing in the UK’s feather-light City regulations to stop him doing as he pleases.
Besides, he has other fish to fry. After buying department store chain House of Fraser out of administration earlier this year, the retail tycoon promised to transform the ailing brand into the “Harrods of the high street”. Now that is a task that makes Newcastle United reaching the Champions League look like a doddle.