LONDON Short-term loans company Wonga is set to become the new shirt sponsor for Newcastle United after the English Premier League club decided to drop Virgin Money at the end of the season.
Wonga, which has been criticised for the interest rates it charges to consumers for loans to tide them over until payday, already sponsors Scottish Premier League club Hearts and English second-tier team Blackpool.
The deal being negotiated is for shirt sponsorship only, rather than also including naming rights to Newcastle's stadium, a source close to the situation said, without giving any financial details.
Fans were unhappy last year when owner Mike Ashley dropped the St James' Park name for the club's home ground in favour of the Sports Direct Arena, after the sports retail chain he founded, pending a permanent sponsorship deal.
The prospect of the term Wonga - slang for cash - featuring in the club's stadium name had prompted fresh criticism on fan forums.
Newcastle said last week the club would end its sponsorship deal with Virgin Money at the end of the current season.
The partnership was worth only 3 million pounds a season and the club was looking for a more lucrative agreement. Clubs are more aware of the potential of shirt sponsorship after Manchester United secured a record deal with General Motors earlier this year worth some $559 million over seven years.
A spokeswoman for Wonga declined to comment on the reported Newcastle link but said the company remained committed to working with Blackpool.
Premier League rules allow a company to sponsor the shirts of more than one club, meaning a promotion for Blackpool back to the top flight would not impede a deal with Newcastle.
(Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by David Holmes)