Newcastle’s new chief executive, Darren Eales, has promised that the club’s fans will be consulted regarding any potentially contentious commercial decisions including prospective naming rights for St James’ Park.
Financial fair play (FFP) restrictions dictate that Newcastle must box clever, despite the vast wealth of their Saudi Arabian majority owners, as Eales and his team endeavour to fuel their bid to break into the Premier League’s top six by raising off-field revenue streams. However he made it clear supporters’ feelings will not be trampled over.
“That would be bad business,” said the 50-year-old former chief executive of MLS side Atlanta United. “With the history of the club, something like stadium naming rights would be something where we’d be talking to the fans.
“Sometimes there’s a danger if you’re just chasing revenue; we want to have the best fan engagement. If we want to do anything with the stadium we’ll talk to the supporters. It would be crazy not to. It’s important that, anything we do, we bring our supporters along with us. Fan engagement is going to be front and centre.
“We want to be a top-six club consistently competing for trophies so it’s about how we get there but we also want to be sustainable.”
Eales – who said Newcastle would be “innovative” commercially and consider assorted ideas including sponsorship of the training ground – is pursuing deals with both Saudi companies and global concerns. Regulations mean the former need to be at “fair market value”.
“There are certain constraints within Premier League rules but I don’t think establishing fair market value is difficult,” he said. “We’re absolutely [looking at Saudi sponsors], it makes sense in the number of doors that can be opened, but we’re [also] looking globally.”
Eales, who had four years at Tottenham as head of football administration, believes Newcastle’s pulling power should not be underestimated – and not just because, as he pointed out, there are 108 pubs within half a mile of St James’ Park’s city centre location. “We tick a lot of boxes in terms of what companies and brands are looking for,” he said, suggesting that commercial concerns would not take fright at Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
“Our Premier League journey can create something special – there’s a lot of excitement about Newcastle’s journey and our amazing fans among companies I’ve spoken to. There is a heck of a lot of interest in our storyline from global brands.
“I think around the world of football there’s a focus on Newcastle as an exciting story; it’s a club where the fans are incredible, they’re unique. We’ve got something special that’s really attractive to commercial sponsors.
“We’ve got the potential for something that’s really great. I can see that from my first seven weeks but the reality is we have some challenges. The reality is we aren’t like Manchester City when they had the takeover or even Chelsea. We haven’t got a blank sheet of paper where you can just go out and buy who you want.”
Instead FFP means Newcastle must ensure Eddie Howe’s first-team signings provide maximum value for money. “We’re in a situation where we really have to hit it on our signings to get there [the top six] quickly,” said Eales. “We have to get every single transfer right; we can’t afford to get even a couple of players wrong.”