Early Doors

Newcastle United to charge newspapers for talking to players

Newsrooms up and down the country had a rude shock this week when a letter arrived from Newcastle United: journalists will no longer be allowed to talk to the players unless they pay for the privilege.

Magpies owner Mike Ashley has never shied away from controversial ways of maximising the club's revenue, whether it be with a controversial re-naming of St James' Park or selling shirt sponsorship rights to a loans company charging several thousand per cent interest.

Now, though, they've gone even further by asking newspaper editors to cough up for the privilege of chatting to the club's stars.

Some players will still be obliged to talk to the media after matches - duties that are mandated by Premier League rules.

But the rest of the time, it seems that anyone who wants a few words about the club - be it talking about upcoming matches or the latest injury updates - will have to pay.

The idea appears to be to start a sort of bidding war to decide on a few official media partners: the Newcastle Chronicle reports that journalists, "will no longer be given access to their players between matches this season and will instead give those 'privileges' to organisations that pay them."

Newcastle are the first Premier League side to cook up such a scheme, and they've gone to town on the details: there are gold, silver and bronze packages giving different levels of access.

Several sports writers have pointed out that the three levels of access are bound to lead to embarrassment for many players: after all, it won't do a player's ego much good to find that he's available for interview even on the lowly 'bronze' package while some of his peers are only available to 'gold' organisations.

It's not the first time that Ashley has declared war on sections of the media: he recently banned several papers from the ground, including the Chronicle and the Sunday Sun, after what he claimed was unfairly negative coverage of a fan protest.