NEWCASTLE United are hoping to push through the sale of their stadium naming rights in time to boost Alan Pardew’s January transfer war chest.
On Thursday morning the Magpies announced plans to rename St James’ Park as the Sports Direct Arena. The move is intended to showcase the potential for another company to effectively buy the historic ground’s name.
The hope is to tie any deal in with the club’s next shirt sponsorship deal, which will start when Northern Rock’s expires at the end of the season. Arsenal and Bolton Wanderers have similar arrangements.
The move has been hugely unpopular with fans already suspicious of the club’s hierarchy. Allowing the money to be spent on a new striker in January would soften the blow.
“I would hope it would generate between £8-10m a year,” managing director Derek Llambias said yesterday. “That would give us another player. The club needs to be self-sufficient and this will help us.
“We do need to go that one step further to compete. We have had an exceptional year and long may it continue but the fans want us to buy more players.
“We need to bring in a striker in January, we will need replacements in the summer and we need to give ourselves as much as possible. There is no guarantee we will find a sponsor between now and then but we have to give ourselves the opportunity and this is one.” The issue of a new centre-forward has been a thorny one throughout 2011.
Despite repeated promises to the contrary, Andy Carroll was sold to Liverpool in the final hours of transfer activity in January. Newcastle received £35m for a player who has struggled to fulfil his potential at Anfield, but the timing made landing a replacement impossible.
That perhaps cost Newcastle a top-half finish, and being pipped in the last minutes of the season by Sunderland added to supporter frustration.
United fans had already been assured all the Carroll money would be reinvested on player wages and transfer fees in the summer. Even with the departures of Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and José Enríque further boosting the coffers and easing the wage bill, that was not the case. The goalposts were later moved to include the redevelopment of the club’s Darsley Park training ground, which now boasts pitches with undersoil heating.
Demba Ba was the only centre-forward signed, on a free transfer from West Ham United. With eight goals, including two hat-tricks, the Senegalese has been a huge success, but the supporters were promised more, namely a new occupant for the iconic No 9 shirt.
Sochaux striker Modibo Maïga was one of their August targets, and the Magpies are expected to return with another offer when the transfer window opens on New Year’s Day. As Maïga and Ba will both be at the African Cup of Nations in January and February, Pardew may want another striker as well. Uefa’s Financial Fair Play rules, which come into effect from the 2013-14 season, are designed to ensure clubs spend only what they earn. Clubs’ means will be assessed from the financial year ending 2012.
United are third in the Premier League and one of only two unbeaten teams in the competition. Offers of fixed-price 10-year season tickets and cut-price deals to bring friends to matches have created a positive mood on Tyneside. Llambias acknowledged yesterday’s decision could undermine that.
“Of course it’s a worry,” he said. “But I lose Northern Rock this year, so I need to find a new shirt sponsor by the end of December at the latest because (shirt manufacturers) Puma need it – they would have liked it last month.
“If I have to sell them (the two sponsorship packages) separately, I will but we must give ourselves this opportunity. This is inviting people to come in.”