St James' Park - a broader view
After calling for Llambias to communicate with supporters, he has finally given interviews about the new (temporary?) name for St James` Park. There are more questions to be answered.
It might be a surprise to many but following criticism over club communications, hidden away in the form of press releases, a positive comment is due to Derek Llambias. Thank you for being up front, even if the announcements were made from Covent Garden, London rather than the home of Newcastle United.
There are of course crucial items missing from the statement about the immediately unpopular decision to rename St James` Park. Llambias highlighted the commercial potential, that shirt sponsorship is also up for grabs. The combination of stadium and shirt sponsorship should generate £8-10m per year. How much are Sports Direct paying for the use of the name this year?
The timing of the announcement seems perfect for Sports Direct. Newcastle City are riding high in the Premier League, in 3rd place after the coincidence of a relatively benign fixture list. Newcastle Rangers supporters have piled back into the ground following the success.
The once unpopular manager, Alan Pardew has, for the time being at least, a positive profile among supporters. Perhaps the first manager under Ashley will be taking heed, after all, Allardyce may well have had a more appropriate image for NewcastleDirect.com United.
Llambias has, by the nature of his role, become the mouthpiece for Mike Ashley, the owner`s statements being rare. Having bought, what he once called the "jewel in the crown", his attitude seems to have changed to what is now called running the club "in a break even manner" while selling off the family silver.
This contrasts with his biggest statement, following the departure of Kevin Keegan, when he said "I did not buy Newcastle to make money. I bought Newcastle because I love football ………I was always prepared to bank roll Newcastle up to the tune of £20 million per year".
The recent Mission Statement seems to confirm the "break even" approach, perhaps sensibly given the forthcoming implementation of the Platini proposals on financial fair play.
It is worth exploring some of the key elements to the Llambias interviews. The name "arena" has been chosen for more global appeal. The board want to make watching Newcastle United affordable, not disrespecting the "fans". We need to maximise revenue, we can`t compete with the "big boys". We need to be able to give sponsors what they want. £8-10m will give us another player.
Picking up on the last parts first, yes, supporters will always welcome additions to the squad. However good this season`s start has been, the club has struck lucky with injuries. Despite a strong midfield contingent, the club is only a striker or defender injury away from a potential poor run.
There are contracts due up at the end of this season, including the little used Lovenkrands and Smith, as well as the young man starting to make a name for himself, Guthrie and a host of youngsters. 2013, subject to negotiations, sees Ryan Taylor, Simpson, Coloccini, Harper and Xisco at the end of their nominal term. The squad needs investment.
Around 10-11 months ago, the club promised through Alan Pardew that Andy Carroll was going nowhere, would not be sold, not at any price. The club later promised that the Carroll cash would be reinvested. The summer transfer window closed without a player to wear the hallowed number 9 shirt. The £30m awaits investment.
As for keeping sponsors happy, it is likely, given the estimated £4.7m operating loss (before transfer profits) that commercial income has dropped during this part of the economic cycle. However, TV revenue has increased with overseas rights. The most numerous stakeholders in the club are supporters, or "fans" as we are now called. The fact is that we generate only around 30% of the club`s revenue and seemingly have become less important in the process.
In practice, we were not consulted. The writing was on the wall following the attempt at sportsdirct.com@stjamespark. Now the Sports Direct writing is all over the stadium, sorry, arena. There seems little doubt that the stadium will end up with 2 names, one for the supporters and another for the global media.
For many supporters there have been several last straws; Keegan, Hughton, Carroll, even loved ones' ashes and the cinder track around the pitch. Despite the league position, this season the club has managed only one gate of above 50,000, once the norm. It remains to be seen how much the latest straw will impact on gate and the commercial income such as shirt sales.
Almost beneath the radar came the news that Ashley and Llambias were in the Caribbean shortly before the announcement. There will be speculation as to why. Is this deal a prelude to a sale? Is it a warm up for a global sponsor, already secured? Was the Caribbean used as a gateway to Joorbachian`s stream of South American talent, securing new investment in the squad?
Thank you for speaking to us Mr Llambias. Following the Mission Statement, this is welcome progress. The name change is less welcome, and there is much to debate. In the medium term, your actions will define your sincerity, which was called into doubt several times, notably at the closure of the summer window, by inaction rather than action.
London is a safe place to make a controversial decision about Newcastle`s heritage. Now that decision has been made, please give us our say. ToTT are happy to offer you a firm but fair interview, to explain where we are going, how we are going to get there and how to deal with the traffic on the way.
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