Worries over the Financial Fair Play system have fueled plans to develop St. James’ Park and sell off lucrative naming rights.
Nearly three thousand fans of Newcastle United have spoken in on two pressing issues confronting the club’s owners.
There’s a reason it’s been nicknamed “the cathedral on the hill”: since 1880, it’s stood tall above Newcastle. It’s in St. James’ Park. Greater than a simple football field.
Located in a prime location, it’s unlike any other English football stadium. Its placement is so prominent that it seems almost symbolic, since the sport of football has come to symbolise the city itself. Businesses in the stadium’s immediate vicinity benefit economically when the mood inside the stadium is upbeat.
Things to see include the St. James’ Park, Grey’s Monument, and the Tyne Bridge. The three most recognisable structures in Newcastle.
The later of that renowned three is now in a precarious position, despite the fact that the atmosphere and football inside the stadium are better than they have been in a long time.
After fans became tired of Mike Ashley’s lack of ambition off the field and Steve Bruce’s stale football on it, Newcastle had to give away 10,000 season tickets only three years ago. They’ve already sold out, but they might easily sell twice as many tickets now.
This level of demand has not been seen since the Keegan years of the mid-1990s. CEO Darren Eales told the Chronicle last month that the company had a “champagne issue.”
One of the most pressing concerns of the board, chaired by Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi, is how to accommodate the increased demand for seats. Should we invest in a major makeover and expansion of St. James’ Park, or construct a new stadium from the ground up?
It’s not as simple as making a binary choice between staying and leaving. The Saudi owners and the rest of the board would want to expand, and plans have been made for this in the past, but doing so would need a significant investment of time, energy, and resources. Everyone is aware that the East Stand is surrounded by Grade II listed structures, and that expanding the Gallowgate has its own set of structural and financial concerns.
“While “we’ll clearly be looking at whether there are ways to stretch that,” Eales said, “the truth is, we are in a position where we are restricted in capability.”
Eales and the owners have promised to keep the fans in the loop about all of their plans, from the possibility of selling the naming rights to wherever Newcastle plays their football in the next few years to the possibility of moving from St. James’. They want to make the best decision possible for the fans, the club, and the city as a whole.
The Chronicle has conducted its own poll of supporters over the last several weeks to gauge their reactions on the two controversial issues. Of the almost 3,000 responses received, there was complete agreement that the club should rebuild St. James’, the site of all 130 of the team’s seasons.
Paul Lynch, a Great Park resident who has purchased a season ticket for the last 32 years, believes the club must prioritise keeping ticket prices low in any future planning.
He stated, “I believe 60,000 would be acceptable, but a greater capacity may assist to cut ticket costs. In a perfect scenario, the stadium remains where it is and it is extended — the ideals should be as many people attending as possible at cheap pricing.”
The amount of games and the cost of following the team can be exorbitant, especially if you pay for kids as well, if your team is as successful as Manchester City’s. Season tickets and going deep into all cup competitions is very costly, especially if you also have Champions League football. That’s before you factor in away games.
Given that we are already in the poorest region of the nation and are headed into even more dire economic straits, it is imperative that any additional capacity be used to make it possible for “regular” fans to attend rather than to provide more costly corporate tickets.
Twenty-one percent of respondents to the Chronicle survey think the club needs to move to a new stadium to fulfil its ambitions, while five percent aren’t sure what to do. Paul said, “I do understand the other argument but keeping the stadium where it is, is my preference. It is the perfect city centre location and we have played on the site of the stadium for over 100 years – tradition is important, particularly given how everything else churns.”
If the stadium were to be relocated, I would like to see the following guarantees put in place: (1) a new city centre location is identified; (2) ticket prices for Newcastle United games are reduced for all fans; (3) the new stadium is designed with fan experience in mind; and (4) the stadium doesn’t look like every other generic new stadium.
Going out for a drink in town after a Newcastle win, you can feel the atmosphere of the city being driven by the football club and its fortunes. I’d hate to see that ever go away, so the stadium’s central location is crucial. “The city centre location is critical. It fuels the economy of the city and it is regularly lauded as best away day for away fans,” he said.
After 22 years as a season ticket holder, Harlow, Essex resident Sean Whelan, 38, has a strong preference for staying put: “They don’t need to relocate. Like a lot of people I want to see them raise the size of the Gallowgate to bring it in level with the Milburn and Leazes.”
I’m sure they could sell more tickets if the venue were larger, but I’d prefer they not sacrifice a prime downtown spot to appease the bandwagoners.
Every large city team that has relocated to a new stadium has lost something. Regardless of results, Manchester United and Liverpool still look and feel like the established clubs they are.
Even Spurs have lost something, since they depend on London visitors purchasing tickets on the seat exchange to fill their stadium. “Arsenal lost that when they left Highbury. Go to West Ham today, and you don’t even feel like you’re in East London.”
“I like the contrast between the Georgian façade of Leazes Terrace and the brutalist 1970s reinforced concrete of the East Stand in St. James’ Park.”
Although keeping United’s home games at St. James’ Park would be favoured by their rabid following, the subject of stadium naming rights is more nuanced and might depend on where United play their games over the next decade.
However, times have changed, and any decision to sell the naming rights to the Gallowgate would be made to benefit the club financially, not one man’s favourite child, you’d think. Ashley’s infamous, petty — no, spiteful — call to rebrand St. James’ Park as the Sports Direct Arena in 2011 is one of the most controversial, heartbreaking moves he inflicted on the club’s supporters.
But supporters are divided on whether or not the club should explore this possibility in order to increase its commercial income and catch up to the Premier League’s biggest spenders. When Ashley bought Newcastle in 2007, the club’s commercial income was £28 million; when he sold up 14 years later, it was just £29 million. Spurs, on the other hand, increased its commercial activity from £39 million to £162 million during the same period.
Making more money frees up more FFP to invest in new players.
But some argue that Old Trafford and Anfield, two of the most successful clubs in the world, have not been “tainted” by sponsorship and that Barcelona isn’t the finest model of how to manage a financially successful team because of its Spotify Camp Nou.
Our poll findings reflect this diversity of opinion: although 51% are in favour of selling the stadium’s name rights, 37% are against, and 12% are unclear.
Changing the name of your home every time a sponsorship contract is extended seems unsettling. We have the Etihad and the Emirates, as well as the King Power in Leicester, albeit that was once the Walkers Stadium as well.
As long as the money is put back into the club, Lynch said, “I’m not precious about naming rights.” “It’ll always remain St. James’ Park,” he said, “but if it was a new field, then you don’t have the struggle against tradition that would come with a stadium sponsor.”
Whelan, on the other hand, has a different opinion: “Naming rights sounds like fool’s gold to me. Take Man City, who were awarded a beautiful new publicly financed stadium that is now a billboard for an airline. Partly because of the facility, Man City have an air of emptiness about them.
“When things are going well and better players are being recruited, it might be tempting to get carried away, but naming the football club’s stadium after a corporate brand should be an absolute no-no. How you see the club’s potential moving forward will change after reading this.
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