Newcastle United have come under criticism for signing a new sponsorship deal with short-term loan company Wonga.
The deal will see Wonga replace Virgin Money as shirt sponsors starting in 2013/14, with the previous commercial partnership ending a year early.
Wonga have been pro-active in their bid to win over Newcastle supporters by waiving their stadium naming rights.
The club’s historic home will now officially revert from the Sports Direct Arena to its traditional name, St James’ Park.
“Football is an emotional sport and it is obviously really important to them (supporters),” a Wonga spokesperson said.
“We listened to what they wanted and that is why we did it.”
Wonga claim they will also launch other initiatives, including forums with fans for discussing ideas for supporter involvement and involving fans with the design of new shirts.
However, with the northeast of England one of the worst-hit areas of Great Britain in regards to insolvency, local politicians have slammed the club’s deal with a high interest rate loan company.
“I’m appalled and sickened that they would sign a deal with a legal loan shark,” Newcastle city council leader Nick Forbes told The Guardian.
“We see the devastating consequences of people getting into financial difficulty and we spend a lot of money each year helping people who are in debt through companies like this.
“It’s a sad indictment of the profit at any price culture at Newcastle United.
“We are fighting hard to tackle legal and illegal loan sharking and having a company like this right across the city on every football shirt that’s sold undermines all our work.”
R3, Britain’s association of insolvency professionals, has questioned the morality of Wonga’s decision to sponsor a football club in the north east.
President Lee Manning believes the last thing the north east’s poor need is to be tempted into short-term loans.
“According to official figures, the north east has the highest personal insolvency rate of anywhere in the country, at 35.2 per 10,000 adults,” Manning said.
“This is compared to a rate of 29.6 in the North West and 17.5 in London.
“Wonga has chosen to target a region that has comparatively high numbers of people experiencing financial difficulty.
“Our experience tells us that many of those seeking high cost credit need professional advice for their financial problems, rather than accruing further debt.”
As part of the 24 million-pound deal, Newcastle United revealed Wonga have agreed to put 1.5 million pounds into the club’s academy and a scheme that helps local teenagers gain employment.
But that is not enough for local MP Ian Lavery.
“A city like Newcastle and the region should not have any ties with an organisation like Wonga,” Lavery said.
“This business makes profits off the back of deprived people who are desperate and who are the most vulnerable in society.
“It’s an absolute outrage and I now won’t set foot into the stadium.”
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