What Newcastle’s return to an Adidas kit does and doesn’t tell us


For Newcastle United supporters who fondly recall watching Kevin Keegan’s Entertainers or Sir Bobby Robson’s Champions League side of the early 2000s, there is eager anticipation.

Even for those younger fans whose earliest memories are of the pared-back, ambition-devoid version of the club under Mike Ashley, the change of kit provider from Castore to Adidas is deeply symbolic. Castore became, like Wonga and Sports Direct, emblematic of Ashley’s bastardised manifestation of Newcastle United.

The post-takeover version of Newcastle would not accept what always felt like a meagre deal with a challenger brand whose record upon entering the football sphere at Rangers was questionable and who, despite denials to the contrary, were suspected of having a special relationship with Sports Direct.

They do not want to outsource control of key facets of their business operation, most notably the club shop. In doing so, the previous incarnation of Newcastle had agreed to what Peter Silverstone, Newcastle’s chief commercial officer, described as an “unusual and unfavourable” arrangement in evidence given to a recent Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) case with Ashley’s Sports Direct. Newcastle’s lawyer, Thomas de la Mare, also said it was a “remarkably one-sided” deal, given Newcastle had no right to receive any sales royalties or data.

The new Newcastle have an entirely different mentality; they aspire to establish themselves among the Premier League’s elite and then, eventually, according to Yasir Al-Rumayyan, their chairman, become “No 1”. The multi-year deal with Adidas — inadvertently leaked early when an episode of We Are Newcastle United, the Amazon Prime documentary about the club, was made available ahead of schedule last August — is seen as illustrative of that.

 

Certainly, in purely financial terms, it is transformative.

From the beginning of the 2021-22 season, Castore paid around £6million ($7.7m) a year to Newcastle, who seemingly received precious little beyond that from actual merchandise sold. Newcastle have never confirmed how much the Adidas agreement is worth, but it is believed to bring in between £25m and £40m annually.

Even if it is at the lower end of that scale, that represents a more than 400 per cent increase in revenue, year on year. Despite many industry experts suggesting Newcastle’s commercial deals appeared undervalued under Ashley, that is still an astounding upsurge.

With the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules (PSR) continuing to constrain Newcastle, such rapid income growth from a solitary deal is significant — and entirely necessary.

Unlike the Sela front-of-short sponsorship deal, which also represented around a four-fold uplift on the Fun88 partnership, this has not been struck with a company run by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), Newcastle’s majority owners. That agreement required significant scrutiny by the Premier League via the much-talked-about associated party transaction rules, which were rushed in following Newcastle’s takeover in late 2021 in an attempt to prevent clubs from artificially inflating their commercial income.


Keith Gillespie, Robbie Elliott, Ant, Dec, Lee Clark and Steve Watson model the 1995 Adidas kit (Gary M Prior/Allsport/Getty Images)

The eagerness of Adidas, a firm entirely independent of the club’s owners, to offer such lucrative terms to Newcastle — at least in a relative sense, compared to the value of agreements under Ashley — underscores the vast potential for growth which outside corporations now believe the St James’ Park outfit have.

While the economic benefit of the deal has been welcomed by supporters, genuine excitement is being provoked by the hope that Newcastle can replicate and surpass the memorable feats of players who wore Adidas strips.

Some examples of those iconic kits include the “grandad collar” home shirt (pictured above) of Keegan’s glorious, swashbuckling 1995-96 side, who narrowly missed out on the Premier League title, worn by Les Ferdinand, David Ginola, Peter Beardsley et al.

The blue-and-maroon-hooped strip from the same season (worn by Keith Gillespie above).

The array of trademark goalkeeper shirts, immortalised by Pavel Srnicek and Shaka Hislop, including the sunset over the Quayside and the blue animal print jerseys.

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The legend Pavel Srnicek in his legendary goalkeeper top (Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty Images)

And, for every one of Alan Shearer’s 206 goals he scored during his decade with his hometown club, he wore Adidas.

Ironically, however, some of the most-used images of Ashley’s tenure also feature Adidas. They continued as kit supplier for the first three of Ashley’s 14 years and he famously wore a black-and-white jersey while standing in the away end among supporters during his debut season, including at the Stadium of Light for the Wear-Tyne derby in November 2007.

Pre-Ashley, Adidas and Newcastle’s relationship, which began in 1995 following Asics’ two-year stint as shirt supplier, had been exclusively reserved for the top flight. Yet Newcastle were wearing Adidas during the woeful relegation season of 2008-09 and the final campaign of their first spell together was in the Championship.

What’s more, not every Adidas kit was as beautiful as those aforementioned ones. The two-tone yellow strip, for example — dubbed by some as the “banana” or “deckchair” shirt — was actually the last Newcastle away jersey offered by Adidas. It may have achieved cult status because of Newcastle’s success in getting promotion while wearing it, but it was definitely not a classic kit in an aesthetic sense.

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Newcastle on their way to promotion in stripes of yellow and… a slightly different yellow (Phil Cole/Getty Images)

While Castore’s decision to design away kits which bore a striking resemblance to the Saudi national kit — white with green trim in 2022-23, then green with black-and-white trim last season — was widely criticised, including by this correspondent, Adidas are expected to do something similar. Leaked images suggest the third kit for 2024-25 will also be white with flashes of green and black. Their design is set to be a repurposing of their own 1999-2000 away kit, so is perhaps less brazen, but it also hints at a desire to tap into that Saudi connection.

At £80 for adults and £55 for children, the new home shirt is hardly priced kindly either, given the present cost-of-living crisis, even if that is largely in line with those charged by other top-eight clubs. Admittedly, the initiative to donate £4.17 and £5 from every sale of an adult and junior shirt by the end of August to the Newcastle United Foundation, the club’s charity arm, is a laudable move.

Regardless, Adidas is a world-class brand and, from the moment Ashley shifted the club to Puma in 2010, many supporters yearned for a return to the previous German sportswear supplier. This renewed partnership also allows Newcastle access to Adidas’ expertise and facilities. They are expected to head to the company’s £850m Sports facility in Herzogenaurach, Germany, next month for a pre-season training camp.

Under Eddie Howe, Newcastle’s fast-track improvement as a football team — from relegation fodder to the Champions League within 18 months, then down to seventh place — has massively outpaced their improvement as a football club. Their infrastructure, data processes, staffing structure and commercial operations still lag significantly behind the elite clubs.

For Newcastle, it is very much a case of back to the future; a hark back to Keegan, Robson and those wistful pre-Ashley days. This Adidas deal marks another important step in Newcastle’s attempts to recast themselves as a returning force.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

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(Top photo: Newcastle United)





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