St. James’ is a sign of the times

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Photo by Rich Watts

Everyone seems to be having their two cents on the subject of St James’ Park’s rebranding as the Sports Direct Arena since the announcement was made on Thursday of last week. This comes after news that Chelsea are doing likewise, and the Manchester City fiasco over the summer with the Etihad Arena. Some people are saying it is a shameless rebranding of a historical icon of football, others are defending the decision as a way of boosting revenue in an attempt to stabilise the club financially. I should say at this point that I am a lifelong Newcastle fan and our stadium will always be St James’ to me, but this seems just to be an extension of sponsorship monopoly; an empty gesture of advertisement which distracts from the football and will galvanise the fans against the brand.

English Football is in some aspects is a step behind most of the sporting world in terms of selling their soul to corporate advertisements. In the South American leagues, clubs sell shoulder and short sponsoring in addition to a plethora of hoardings and stadium rights. This has notably had the benefit of giving clubs the financial backing to keep big players and attract big names; most recently Ronaldo (the great one not the poser) and Ronaldinho returned to their home country to finish their careers, something that wouldn’t have been possible without sponsorship money. Neymar and Ganso have been held on to by Santos, at least for now – a feat which is almost unheard of in Brazilian football (we only need to look at the career of Ronaldo, who left for Europe at 17 because of the poor quality of the league). Corinthians even demonstrated their potential fiscal power by attempting to buy Carlos Tevez over the summer, through sponsorship.

Money attracts quality and money funds progress. Part of me sees the need to run a club as a business and become stable financially, but as many pessimistic and sensationalist bloggers are crying out, it’s only a matter of time till they are advertising on the players’ faces. Perhaps that isn’t as farcical as it sounds either, as recent graduates Ross Harper and Ed Moyse found out. They rent out their faces to advertising and are making not only enough money to pay off their student loans but a fair bit extra as well. Jealous much? I know I am. There’s something about the idea of the Pukka Pies logo across Richard Dunn’s gormless chops, or Oldham Theatre’s production of Beauty and the Beast advertised on Shafki Kuqi’s forehead.

This situation has reminded me of a quote from Fight club, as Chuck Palahniuk prophesises that “when deep space exploration ramps up, it’ll be the corporations that name everything, the IBM Stellar Sphere, the Microsoft Galaxy, Planet Starbucks.” It’s dystopian, it’s depressing, but it’s also inevitable that corporations are going to have an increasing influence; so let’s focus on the positives, Le Dreamboat Yohan Cabaye, debt free entrepreneurs and massive frappuchinos from planet Starbucks. I’ll still be calling it St James’ though.

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