Last Saturday, I was one of the relatively few Newcastle fans who walked in 11 minutes late, the majority of equally loyal fans did not do so , and I have no doubt that they included many who can match or beat my 50 year tenure.
To quote Abraham Lincoln “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
If asked to do so, I will also boycott on Sunday and once again, I have no doubt that the majority of Newcastle fans will once again choose to turn up and support the team. Loyalty in the face of adversity is what makes us special and I perfectly understand and respect this logic . However, on a personal level , I feel that I could not criticise Ashley as much as I do, and then not support the action.
I would, however, like to challenge two elements of logic often used against those campaigning against Ashley:
One is that he ‘already had your season ticket money’. Of course this is true but I think it misses the point. When the original ‘United Supporters for Change’ boycotted against McKeag in the late 80s, season ticket income made up 80% of the club’s income and a boycott had a direct impact on club income. Today’s matchday income is only about a sixth of the club’s revenue and mostly locked in by season ticket holders. So, on the face of it a boycott has limited impact. Even if 10% of fans boycotted it would have no immediate cost, and even if they (the 10%) all failed to renew season tickets, it would only cost the club £2-3m.
However, don’t underestimate the impact that empty seats, and the ongoing external campaign against Sports Direct, has on advertisers and on television companies. Commercial companies do not wish to be associated with toxic brands. If advertisers were spooked, or TV companies decided to reduce the number of home televised games, the financial exposure to the club and or sports direct could be potentially several tens of £ millions, season ticket money is insignificant by comparison.
The other key objection is that Mike Ashley doesn’t care, protest is futile. This has some resonance. I’m pretty sure Mike slept pretty well on Saturday night given low levels of support for the 11 min walk in – though he was sufficiently concerned beforehand to ensure that ALL TVs in the walkways had been turned off and were not showing the game! A boycott would not change anything overnight but as part of the overall picture it can have an impact.
Bear in mind that Sports Direct has not exactly been untarnished in the last two years, castigated by ‘Which’ for poor customer service, by the unions for treatment of their people, and by MPs in parliament and at parliamentary committees . The constant campaigns against him generate more and more bad publicity and cannot be helpful for the Sports Direct brand.
Is it all futile? Well Sports Direct’s share price has fallen by 33% since July (the FTSE100 as a whole has fallen 8%) so it’s hard to argue that the Brand is unaffected.
Also, Mike Ashley has shown that he IS sensitive to criticism. However we interpret last night’s announcement, I would draw attention to his reference to making fans happy.
So either you believe a sale is imminent and in which case the protest movement has achieved its goal; or, you believe he is lying (again!), in which case it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the campaigns are having an impact and he is seeking to deflect the fans ahead of the planned boycott and a no doubt troublesome transfer window.