Soccer clubs have always come up with novel ways to make money: from funeral services to soccer-themed hotels.
But Newcastle United may be breaking new ground when it comes to revenue sources.
A report in Wednesday's The Chronicle, based in Newcastle upon Tyne, claims that the club has informed newspapers of their plan "to try to make papers pay for 'exclusive' access … with the offer of a series of packages offering interviews for a fee."
The outlet, which has been banned by Newcastle United for alleged unbalanced coverage surrounding a recent fan protest, described a tiered offering with gold, silver and bronze interview packages offered up to the media.
But how far-fetched is checkbook journalism in soccer, really?
Well, from a journalist's perspective, there is probably no more sacrosanct rule in the business: No money is to exchange hands when it comes to journalism. It immediately throws the integrity and balance of a news article into question. The American soccer media community recently grappled with the issue on a Phil Ball article.
"A bias of having money attached would make it next to impossible to read something like that," ESPN soccer analyst Alexi Lalas, who is a former player and club GM, told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday. "I think that if it's not authentic, it's not interesting … You could have the best questions in the world, it would still be tainted."
"I did a lot of interviews as a player because I felt it was my duty to build the club, the league and myself," chimed in Lalas' ESPN colleague Taylor Twellman, a former MLS MVP with the New England Revolution. "If I was getting paid, fine. But it would have to be the norm. Otherwise I wouldn't do it."
Soccer clubs can argue that the only party making money in the interview transaction is the publishers — when they print (newspaper) or publish (online) the final article and garner ad or user revenue.
What does the club benefit from exposing their players? Some will argue "free publicity," but it's often times not the type of pub that clubs desire.
Plus, wouldn't payments for interviews akin to TV or radio broadcast rights fees? You want content from the club to showcase in your for-profit media outlet? Pay a rights fee.
While Lalas believes Newcastle's proposed pay-to-talk set-up may be easier to digest in England, where tabloids are known to pay for interviews and tips, it's a set-up that would still be tough for him to stomach.
"The [media] is one of the places in the world where you can compete with only your intellect. There's a fairness in it that would be lost," he says.
"It's one thing to get beat out because someone has a connection established over the years. It's another thing if someone beats you out because they have a lot of money. It would be disappointing."