Wonga restores Newcastle Utd stadium’s old name

Controversial payday loans company Wonga has moved to placate the negative fan reaction to its multimillion shirt sponsorship deal with Newcastle United by paying to return the club’s 120-year-old stadium to its St James’ Park name.

Wonga will rename Newcastle’s Sports Direct Arena as St James Park from the start of next season.

The finance company was announced as the shirt sponsor for the Premier League side in a four year deal earlier today (9 October), and in a surprise move it also revealed that it had acquired the stadium’s naming rights.

Wonga had previously denied it was seeking naming rights when reports first surfaced that it was in talks with the club’s owner Mike Ashley. However, following a fresh wave of protest from fans, the company’s chief executive Errol Damelin decided to purchase the naming rights in a bid to quell ill-feeling on Tyneside.

A spokeswoman for the financial business says rather than use the stadium to advertise the brand, the company has opted to revert to the ground’s original name.

She adds: “We’ve listened to fan reaction over the last three days and wanted to do something that would mean a lot to the people of Newcastle and the fans of the club. We listened to what they wanted and this is why we bought the naming rights earlier today.”

St James’ Park was renamed the Sports Direct Arena last November in a temporary deal with Ashley’s sportswear chain to showcase the potential for a ground sponsor.

The Wonga deal is worth a reported £24m over four years and will see Wonga’s logo appear on the club’s black and white shirt from the start of the 2013/14 season.

Additionally the company is working on a range of initiatives with fans. It will invest at least £1.5m in two of the club’s academies and the Newcastle United Foundation Enterprise scheme. Other initiatives will include a forum for supporters to discuss ideas for fan involvement and a marketing campaign to involve fans in the design of the shirt.

Despite this, the move has sparked anger from some fans and local politicians, who believe that deal for the stadium’s naming rights has only been struck to deflect criticisms away from the club.

Fanzine editor Mark Jensen, from www.themag.co.uk, says: “The fans will be over the moon that the name will be back to what it’s always been. But there will be mixed emotions on the subject as it’s a sad indictment of today’s society that a company like [Wonga] is doing so well.”

Despite the negative criticisms, Newcastle’s managing director Derek Llambias insists that the deal is born out of financial necessity and would boost the club’s brand.

He adds: “As everyone knows, a strong commercial programme is vital to building a club that can regularly compete for top honours at the highest level and I am delighted to welcome Wonga into the fold as our lead commercial partner, alongside Puma and Sports Direct.”

Sponsorship experts have observed that Wonga will look to use the shirt sponsorship deal in an “old fashioned” way to build brand awareness. Steve Martin, chief executive at M&C Saatchi Sports and Entertainment adds that the cub’s fans will see the debranding of the Sports Direct Arena to St James’ Park as a “PR job.”

He says: “Wonga are getting a lot of criticism from their deal with Newcastle at the moment but this doesn’t mean it is naive. [The company] must be looking at the North East and thinking that it is a demographic that it can be a part of. It is not doing this to break even or to be a charitable organisation.

“It’s also interesting that it has bought the rights to the stadium. So watch this space and wait until whether that comes to life once its built enough brand awareness around the club’s shirt. It may decide to go on and amplify the stadium’s rights as well.”

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