It’s a rare opportunity that I get to incorporate the words of William Shakespeare into an article. Yet in the wake of Mike Ashley’s decision to rename St James’ Park, a friend promptly text messaged me asking what I thought.
Instead of swearing or talking about ‘the business of the modern game’, I instead replied; “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Pretentious as my response may appear, I feel in many ways it summates my opinion rather succinctly. I say that because on the one hand, with football clubs becoming far more business-like as the years pass, it shouldn’t surprise you to see stadium names be auctioned off to whomever stumps up the money.
Maybe it’s because I watch MLS and write about ‘Pizza Hut Park’ and ‘The Home Depot Centre’. By that I mean it has almost numbed me to the outrage of changing a stadiums name. Newcastle’s next game is the Etihad stadium for example. After that they move across Manchester to play at Old Trafford, which leads me to my next point.
If for a hypothetical moment the Glazer family were to auction the rights of Old Trafford, do you think any self respecting fan would call it by the new name? I for one doubt it. That’s because changing a name does not alter memories.
From observing Twitter I can already see, of those objecting, the majority maintain they will refer to the stadium as ‘St James’ Park’ irrespective of what signage is displayed in the stadium and on the wall outside the ground.
In the wider context however, I do question the change from a business standpoint. We’ve already seen the anger attributed to the decision. Newcastle fans hate it, and so do football fans in general it seems, so with that in mind, what company is going to want to attach themselves to that? It seems to be brand suicide almost, and the quickest way to earn castigation from your potential customers.
That is of course before we even consider the timing of such an announcement. The club are third in the Premier League and the news broke not too long after the BBC had spent an hour with Steven Taylor discussing how wonderful things were.
Managing Director Derek Llambias has been quick to validate the decision with suggestions that the money will be used to buy players. Unfortunately the pessimistic members of Newcastle’s fan base will ask if this is before or after the money received for Andy Carroll is spent.
A fragile relationship that has been devoid of trust for sometime, this latest announcement will have only validated those set against the current hierarchy. Citing Llambias’ promise in 2009 that St James’ Park would always remain as the stadiums name, this latest twist hardly serves as a glowing character reference.
Which is a shame in truth. The last three months have seen so many positive stories emanate from Newcastle. Be it; the playing staff, the togetherness or the fantastic league start, there has been so much to cheer about which makes this latest development harder to swallow because in the eyes of many it eradicates the good work that has gone before.
In truth this is far more likely to affect those in the media. With a local pub offering free drinks to any journalist that refrains from adopting the new name, a difficult decision comes to the fore. In the grander scheme of the game, it seems Newcastle are neither the first nor the last to undergo a name change. Whether these rebranding exercises will permeate to the fan on the street however still seems highly unlikely.
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