The ‘takeover window’ remains open and interested parties are still in negotiations with Mike Ashley’s representatives about acquiring Newcastle United.
It is understood that the Bin Zayed Group are far from the only interested bidders, however, and that Ashley’s lawyers have held talks with at least two other parties.
Sources in London have revealed that at least one of the interested groups have sought advice from leading analysts in the sports-business world about the ways in which NUFC could better exploit their commercial opportunities in the future.
As well as recommendations such as hosting a greater number of music concerts and international sports events like rugby union’s Champions Cup, the advice has included forging stronger links between the club and East Asian markets – something the current regime are attempting to do with the pre-season trip to China this season – and negotiating more lucrative commercial deals, including ensuring the Magpies have a shirt-sleeve sponsor every season.
One of the more controversial suggestions, however, is that prospective new owners could look to recoup a high eight-figure sum by adding a sponsor to the St James’ Park name.
Ashley angered supporters when he attempted to rename the Magpies’ home ground as ‘the Sports Direct Arena’ back in November 2011, something the retailer claimed he did in order to entice potential sponsors to add their own name to the stadium.
As early as November 2009 Ashley had tried to rebrand the ground as the sportsdirect.com@St James’ Park Stadium, but it was his decision to officially change the name two years later which really vexed fans.
It was only after a pay-day lender became the club’s main commercial partners from October 2012 that the St James’ Park name officially returned – although fans, and indeed many pundits, former players and members of the media had continued to call it by its historic title regardless.
There is no suggestion at this stage that any prospective buyer at Newcastle would actually look to act upon the advice and rename St James’ Park, or to add a sponsor to the title, but it shows the desire of would-be owners of the club to maximise the Magpies’ potential income streams that they are seeking such recommendations.
Tottenham Hotspur are still searching for a stadium sponsor for their new world-class facility in north London, while the likes of Manchester City (the Etihad), Arsenal (the Emirates) and AFC Bournemouth (the Vitality) already have grounds named after commercial partners.
It is more common for new grounds to be named after a sponsor rather than traditional stadia, though the latter is becoming more commonplace around Europe because of the attractiveness of the additional multi-million-pound annual income for clubs.
The NUFC notebook is a new Saturday morning diary feature bringing you off-the-field news from St James’ Park. Here are all of the editions so far.
Ahead of the all-English Champions League final earlier this month, Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez appeared at a sponsorship event in his home city of Madrid, when the Liverpool-Tottenham Hotspur game took place.
ITV journalist Peter Smith tweeted a photograph of himself with the United manager, in which he claimed the 59-year-old was “in the dark” about his Magpies future and had “consulted his friend Frank McParland (ex-Rangers scout) about the prospect of the Celtic job”.
A fortnight on and Benitez is yet to sign a new contract, despite his current deal expiring on June 30, although Celtic have since handed interim boss Neil Lennon their managerial position on a permanent basis.
The revelation about McParland, however, highlighted the close ties Benitez still maintains with the football consultant, who worked with the Newcastle manager for four years during two separate stints at Anfield more than a decade ago.
McParland has regularly been spotted at Newcastle games, both home and away, over the past 12 months – and Benitez is believed to have sought advice from the Liverpudlian about potential changes to the Magpies’ development structure, given that the 60-year-old was formerly director of the Reds’ academy.
So meticulous is Benitez in his preparations that, even though he is yet to commit his future to Newcastle and is still considering walking away from St James’ Park once his contract expires on June 30, he has already started discussions with his backroom team about how they would deal with the newly-introduced winter break.
The Magpies will be afforded either the weekend of February 8 or February 15, 2020, off for a mandatory 13-day break from competitive action.
Currently Newcastle are scheduled to travel to Arsenal on February 8, but that could be pushed back by a week depending on when broadcasters want to show the game on TV.
In each of the past two seasons Benitez has taken Newcastle to La Finca Golf Course & Resort in southern Spain in, as well as for a friendly at the Pinatar Arena, during gaps in the Magpies’ late-winter schedule which have been brought about by their early elimination from the FA Cup.
However, now that Newcastle are guaranteed a weekend off in February regardless, tentative ideas about how United could best utilise that period off – if Benitez and his current coaching staff do sign up to remain on Tyneside for the 2019/20 campaign – have already been floated.
Benitez has just 15 days remaining on his Newcastle contract and agents of United players with uncertain futures are now beginning to agitate for clearer information about what is going to happen to their respective clients this summer.
Although Joselu is set to join Spanish side Deportivo Alaves, significant transfer decisions both in and out have been placed on hold until the managerial situation is resolved.
Representatives of players who are looking for improved terms on their contracts, are considering an exit, or may be deemed surplus to requirements, are pushing for clarity from the club so that they can begin to sort out the future plans for their respective clients.
Earlier this year a disgruntled Newcastle player remarked to the club’s hierarchy that he believed he would be at St James’ Park longer than Benitez and so would wait until July before making a firm decision over his own future.
With little more than a fortnight left on Benitez’s deal, the at-the-time out-of-favour player may yet prove correct in his prediction.
Should Benitez fail to sign a contract extension before June 30, then Newcastle players who previously thought they were surplus to requirements could yet be given an opportunity to regain a starting spot under a new manager during pre-season.