Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley’s controversial move to rename St James’s Park to Sports Direct Arena

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NEWCASTLE United have ditched the name of the club’s home – and renamed St James’s Park the Sports Direct Arena in a controversial move.

And the decision by owner Mike Ashley has already provoked widespread anger among fans.

The decision to abandon the name of the stadium comes at a time when anti-Ashley sentiment has been on the wane, such has been the progress of Alan Pardew’s third-placed side in the Premier League.

United today issued a statement which revealed the club was looking to find business keen to buy the long-term naming rights to St James’s Park, with the Sports Direct brand only to be used in the interim.

However, the antipathy on Tyneside to the renaming of St James’s Park could well put off many potential sponsors.

Up to now, only new stadiums in the Premier League have been renamed.

The statement read: “Newcastle United have today announced plans to license the full naming rights to the club’s stadium following consultation with international branding experts.

“The board are committed to generating additional commercial revenue from advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

“The original naming rights proposal, launched in November 2009, invited sponsors to link their brand to St James’s Park, but this did not prove commercially attractive.

“As such, the club will now seek a sponsor who will be granted full naming rights. Until such time, the stadium will be renamed the Sports Direct Arena.”

Managing director Derek Llambias said the decision to offer naming rights to St James’s Park was necessitated by the need to “maximise all revenue streams for the benefit of the club.”

“Our aim for Newcastle United is to continue to deliver success for the fans, and everyone associated with the club,” said Llambias.

“We must make this club financially self-sufficient in order to deliver that success.

“To grow sustainably and allow us to invest in our future, we will need to rely increasingly heavily on commercial income.

“These are very difficult economic times, and the board have a responsibility to maximise all revenue streams for the benefit of the club. Stadium rebranding offers a lucrative way for clubs to secure significant additional income.

“When we initially launched our plans at the end of 2009, we invited sponsors to attach their brand to that of St James’s Park.

“However, it has become clear that in order to make the proposition as commercially attractive as possible, a potential sponsor must be given the opportunity to fully rebrand the stadium.

“Naming the stadium the Sports Direct Arena helps up to showcase the opportunity to interested parties. We are now actively seeking a long-term sponsor wishing to acquire full naming rights for the stadium.

“Our shirt sponsorship deal with Northern Rock will also expire at the end of this season, which presents would-be sponsors with the opportunity to acquire both the naming rights and shirt sponsorship deals.”