Newcastle seeks takers for ground naming rights

LONDON - Newcastle United has announced it is looking to sell the naming rights to St James' Park, one of England's oldest football grounds.

The move comes as Newcastle chairman Mike Ashley announced he was taking the club off the market. It was put up for sale in June this year, shortly after the team was relegated from the Premier League.

Ashley's decision resulted from an inability to bring in any bidders who could meet the £80 million asking price. Now Newcastle are doing well in the Championship and could be promoted to the Premier League at the first attempt, significantly raising their value.

In addition to finding a buyer for the stadium's name, Newcastle is also in the hunt for a shirt sponsor. The current £25 million deal with government-owned Northern Rock is set to run out next year, with taxpayers unlikely to stomach a renewal.

However it is the decision to sell naming rights to the ground that is likely to create the greatest furore among Newcastle's fans, who style themselves as the "most passionate supporters in the land".

Newcastle has played at St James' Park since 1892 and, although the 52,000-seater stadium has been through many changes since then, it is undoubtedly the club's greatest link with the past. It is arguable whether any brand would want to deal with the negative feeling a name change might cause.

Ashley, who has long been a hate-figure among fans, has announced plans to invest in the club. He has also appointed caretaker manager Chris Hughton on a permanent basis.

In a statement, NUFC said: "The club has confirmed that it has been withdrawn from sale and is no longer on the market. The club had been trying to broker a deal with a number of prospective buyers in recent months, however none of those deals came to fruition."