With Newcastle the darlings of season and sitting third in the Premier League, owner Mike Ashley decided this was the perfect time to announce that the 119-year history of the St James' Park name is over with immediate effect. And he even did it when people are so desperate for an international break story to feast on that they're arguing about poppies.
At least, they were. Now the only talk is about how St James' Park -- a ground already slathered with signs for Ashley's Sports Direct company -- has become Sports Direct Arena with the snap of Mike Ashley's sausage fingers. For no financial gain to the club. And just when fans were starting to tolerate him, too.
Said Mark Jensen, editor of Newcastle fanzine The Mag (via the Guardian):
"It comes when people were maybe thinking: 'Who knows, maybe he [Ashley] has had second thoughts about how he is running the club.' It just seems very opportunist and it certainly won't help the mood, but obviously we've got more or less the full ground capacity guaranteed.
"Apart from having more exposure for Sports Direct, and I can see the benefits for Mike Ashley to do that, I don't see how there are any benefits whatsoever for anybody connected with Newcastle United."
No clear benefits for Newcastle? The club managing director, Derek Llambias, spells out the half-baked logic...
"Naming the stadium the Sports Direct Arena helps [us] to showcase the opportunity to interested parties," he said. "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."
See -- Llambias seems to be saying that all potential corporate sponsors are so incredibly dumb that they can only envision sponsoring the stadium if the name of another company is already on it, rather than non-corporate jibberish words like "St James' Park." And that they need Sports Direct to be the case study -- albeit a potentially flawed one since, again, the few places the stadium doesn't already say Sports Direct is where it said "St James' Park" -- to convince them to actually give Newcastle money for this business opportunity. A business opportunity Ashley is now giving himself for free.
Of course, as owner of the club he can call it "Mike Ashley Loves Puppies Arena" if he wants and if it helps one of his interests make more money so he can in turn spend more on Newcastle, then good for Newcastle. Unfortunately, Ashley hasn't established a history of thinking like that (see: the £35 million in Andy Carroll money jammed in his pocket). So fans will keep calling the it St James' Park and when no one suddenly jumps to replace Sports Direct, the club will consider renaming it [Your Firm Here!] Stadium.