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Is Newcastle United shirt deal the Wonga decision?
NEWCASTLE United was under fire again last night after signing a sponsorship deal – thought to be worth £24m – with internet pay day lender Wonga.
But in a gesture which is more likely to delight fans, the firm revealed the ground’s name will revert to St James’ Park – months after after club owner Mike Ashley infuriated fans by renaming it the Sports Direct Arena after his sportswear firm.
While many supporters are pleased at the return to the iconic St James’ name, there is concern about the club’s involvement with a firm that charges an APR of about 4,200 per cent on its short-term loans.
Darlington Labour MP Jenny Chapman, who has previously spoken out against pay day loans companies like Wonga, last night expressed her disappointment.
She said: “Many people take the view that businesses like Wonga are charging extortionate rates of interest and are part of the legal loan sharking industry. It is a shame their name is going to be associated with one of the North- East’s best-loved football clubs.
“Businesses like Wonga do not spend money out of the goodness of their heart. They know these are difficult economic times and want to encourage more people to take out their financial products.”
Newcastle Central Labour MP Chi Onwurah added: “Many Newcastle fans’ finances are already stretched to the limit by cuts, unemployment and high fuel costs.
“This would be like (Newcastle striker Demba) Ba saying ‘get a payday loan’. “ The stadium’s name will be changed back to St James’ Park within days.
Mark Jensen, editor of fanzine The Mag, said: “The re-naming is a clever move and clearly has been done in part to deflect some of the criticism of the business they have agreed the sponsorship with.
“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 that is doing so well.”
The four-year deal, the largest sponsorship deal in the club’s history, will see Wonga sponsor shirts from next season and invest £1.5m in the club’s academy.
Errol Damelin, founder and chief executive of Wonga, said returning to the St James’ Park name would “hand the name back to the fans”.
He added: “We are football fans ourselves. We understand the fans, the passion, we love the passion, so for us that is more important than getting our brand out there directly.”
Darryl Bowman, Wonga’s chief marketing officer added: “We will do our best to invest in the club so they can then invest in their youth, their academy.
“We also love the work the club does in the community... 30,000 children were reached by the club last year and we are determined to stand out and help that.”
Responding to criticism of the link to Wonga, United managing director Derek Llambias said: “They are a legal company – they have licences. They have 30,000 customers in the region. Their complaints are next to zero.
“There are banks and institutions with far worse feedback than Wonga. There are enough people saying Wonga is a terrible brand, but why? You are not forced to sign a deal with Wonga.
“I am delighted to have this club associated with this brand.”
He added: “Throughout our discussions Wonga’s desire to help us invest in young playing talent, the community and fan initiatives really impressed us and stood them apart from other candidates.”