From rocketing ticket prices, to television control of the fixture list, to corporate sponsorship of all the major championships, to oil-rich sovereign states owning clubs, football has been on its knees praying to its cash god for decades.
There is not a football ground in the country which does not promote some sort of gambling website or bookmakers. Gambling is legal, it can be fun, but it can also be extremely damaging.
Indeed, if there are two silver linings to the Wonga deal it is firstly, it will bring in more money each season than the current deal with Virgin Money, the second, it is for the shirt sponsorship only and will not lead to the club’s home ground being known as the Wonga Arena, or my personal favourite, the Wonga Dome.
This is football as a business, not football as a sport. It is about revenue streams and balance sheets. It is cold, it is hard and it is ruthless. It isn’t guided by a moral compass, it is guided by the law of the jungle, the economics of success and failure.
Wonga is a company that offer short term loans at a staggering APR of 4,214 per cent. They are marketed as a short-term loan company, in other words if you’ve run out of money a few days before you receive your next pay cheque, you can borrow from them and pay it back when you’ve been paid.
They are an internet company which has taken business from pawn brokers, pay day cheque cashiers and, probably, illegal loan sharks who threaten to break your legs if you don’t pay back similarly extortionate rates of interest on their loans.
Their enterprise is distasteful and unpleasant. In an era of austerity when many of us are paying back the debt accrued from a decade of easy credit, Wonga can be accused of exploiting people’s desperation.
Some people will borrow the money and the fail to pay it back a few days later, taking weeks or months, all the time building up frightening amounts of interest on their loans. Some families will end up with bailiffs knocking on their door and all the stress and heartache that causes.
Ultimately, though, they are not doing anything illegal, just as cigarette companies are not doing anything illegal, even though they sell something that is medically proven to kill you.
Tobacco companies are prevented from advertising in sport, but they didn’t used to be and plenty of sports, Formula One and snooker spring readily to mind, took their tar-lung stained cheques and paid the bills with them.
Newcastle United have not done anything wrong as a business because they are operating within the rules given to them by the Football Association and the Premier League.
Wonga already sponsor
Until the game’s governing body decide companies like Wonga are not welcome to associate themselves with our national sport, football clubs are perfectly entitled to be sponsored by them. Don’t get your hopes up of an intervention because it isn’t likely to happen.
Look at the Olympics, the pinnacle of sporting achievement, sponsored by fast-food chain McDonalds and chocolate bar company Mars. Remember, money, not morals.
Newcastle, like the Olympic “family” are trying to maximise their commercial opportunities and just because they carry the Wonga logo on their shirts, publicising their dubious enterprise, does not mean they are holding a gun to anyone’s head saying take out a loan with them.
Some Newcastle United fans will, so will fans of other clubs because of the increased exposure Wonga will receive. That is why they are paying around £8 million a year to have their logo on the front of the famous black and white shirt.
For many it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, but this is not the first commercial deal in professional sport that is difficult to swallow. But it will be all the same, sugar-coated with the news they can now call their home St James' Park again.