Mike Ashley decision raises questions ahead of Newcastle United takeover arbitration
Mike Ashley has made his fortune selling sportswear through the Sports Direct empire he founded – but he won’t be selling Newcastle United shirts at St James’s Park next season.
Staff at the stadium’s club shop, which was able to reopen this week after the country’s coronavirus lockdown was eased, have been issued with redundancy notices ahead of the store’s temporary closure.
It is understood that the shop, which is operated by Sports Direct, will be refurbished and reopened as a Castore outlet – the Liverpool-based firm is set to be confirmed as United’s new kit suppliers ahead of the end of the club’s long-running deal with Puma this summer – ahead of next season.
Sadly, the staff – who were furloughed during the store’s enforced closure – are not being transferred to the new shop through the TUPE process.
The letter sent to them, according to the Daily Mail, references the club’s prospective new owners, but the proposed takeover by a Saudi Arabia-backed consortium, which is going through a private arbitration process after the Premier League failed to make a timely decision on its approval last summer, doesn’t fully explain the decision to let the staff go.
It was speculated that the letter was a sign that a conclusion to the takeover saga was close, but sources close to the deal have played this down.
The move is instead understood to be instead related to the imminent kit switch to Castore, though Newcastle have made no comment.
Of course, the club store has not been able to trade for much of the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic, and in-store and online demand for merchandise, in any case, will have been hit both by the club’s fortunes on the pitch – and the antipathy felt towards Ashley on Tyneside.
Fans can only hope that when it reopens that that club is under new ownership – and the mood in the city is very different.
Before then, the relegation-threatened team, which is 17th in the Premier League and six points ahead of third-bottom Fulham ahead of Saturday’s home game against West Ham United, has work to do on the pitch.