10th October, 2012
Newcastle United agrees four-year sponsorship deal with Wonga
Newcastle United has agreed a new four-year deal with wonga.com which will make the digital finance company the club's lead commercial sponsor.
In addition to sponsoring the team shirt from the start of the 2013/14 season and working on a range of other initiatives with fans, Wonga will invest at least £1.5m in two of the club's most important projects.
Despite strong rumours to the contrary, the club's stadium will not be renamed The Wonga Stadium. In fact - and no doubt to the delight of most of the club's supporters - The Sports Direct Arena will once again officially be known as St James' Park under the terms of the deal.
Wonga is investing in Newcastle United's young talent by providing significant financial support for the club's Academy. The investment will enable the club to transform its Academy into one of the leading centres of youth football development in the country, with the intention of nurturing the top playing stars of the future. The Academy has around 150 boys between the ages of nine and eighteen on its books.
In addition to standard evening and weekend training sessions, the Academy has thirty-five boys attending on weekday afternoons from Monday to Thursday for classroom learning as well as training.
Wonga has also committed to invest in the Newcastle United Foundation Enterprise Scheme. The existing programme helps 15-16 year-olds find employment by developing their skills and experience through practical and educational courses. Wonga's investment will vastly expand the scheme and help more young people in the North East in their future careers.
Other initiatives with Wonga will include a straight talking forum with the fans for discussing ideas for fan involvement in the Club and working on a specific new initiative to involve fans in the design of the shirt.
News of the impending deal sparked an avalanche of comment and criticism both in the press and on social media. Whilst Magpies' manager Alan Pardew called it a 'no lose situation', others were much more sceptical: many questioned the morality of making a deal with a company which charges extermely high interest rates for its short term, 'payday' loans; there is doubt over the attutudes of some of the club's devout Muslim players (the charging of interest is forbidden under Musliom law); and according to reports Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, described payday loan companies like Wonga as being like "legal loan sharks".
Derek Llambias, managing director of Newcastle United, was unrepentant and in a statement emphasised the positive aspects of the deal: "We are building a club that can regularly compete for top honours at the highest level", he said. "As everyone knows, a strong commercial programme is vital to this goal and I am delighted to welcome Wonga into the fold as our lead commercial partner, alongside Puma and Sports Direct. Throughout our discussions Wonga's desire to help us invest in our young playing talent, the local community and new fan initiatives really impressed us and stood them apart from other candidates".
Wonga provides small, short-term loans online and via smartphones. In its defence, it says that to date it has provided over six million loans, while generating industry-leading satisfaction rates from customers.
Errol Damelin, founder and CEO of Wonga said: "We're really proud to be involved with Newcastle United. It is one of the biggest and most important clubs in the UK by any measure and has a fantastic following around the world. We're also really excited about investing in future stars both on and off the field. The Academy and the Enterprise Scheme gives us the opportunity to make a big difference".
"We have just launched our small business offering and there are more great products to come. We know our customers love football and it goes without saying that, alongside Newcastle United, we will continue to support Blackpool and SFA cup winners Hearts".