If all publicity is good publicity, a club in the sixth tier of English football and a North Korea travel promoter might have just stumbled on a gold mine.
A sideline stand advertising board appeared at the ground of the semi-professional Blyth Spartans on Boxing Day, with the simple declaration “Visit North Korea” and the website of the tour company of the same name.
Pictures of the ad popped up on social media, turning heads and prompting press coverage around the world.
“Visit North Korea is proud to announce the signing of a sponsorship deal with English football team Blyth Spartans FC,” says a LinkedIn post by the tour company based in Shenzhen, China.
In addition to the billboard, Visit North Korea will be promoted on the club’s website and social media.
Blyth plays in Croft Park, a 4,500-capacity ground in the port town, which is home to 37,000 people and located about 15 miles north of Newcastle.
The town’s website boasts of its 12th-century roots, a history of coal mining and shipbuilding and now the presence of wind turbines generating electricity.
It seems an unlikely place to be sending visitors to North Korea, which only hosts about 4,000 Western tourists a year.
And traveling there is not something the UK government supports.
“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to North Korea (DPRK),” a British government website says.
“The security situation in North Korea can change with little notice and with no advance warning of possible actions by the North Korean authorities. This poses significant risks to British visitors and residents.”
Rules for US citizens are even more restrictive. A US passport is not valid for travel there.
“Do not travel to North Korea due to the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention of US nationals,” the US State Department says on its website.
But Visit North Korea says it wants to change those perceptions, calling the Hermit Kingdom “misunderstood.”
“By promoting our programs we aim to help people broaden their horizons and think differently about the world,” the company’s website says.
The travel company lists a range of North Korea tours on its site, ranging in price from about $500 to $2,800, depending on the length and type of accommodation desired.
The ad cost Visit North Korea up to $190, according to rates posted on the football club’s website.
Whether it will attract more fans to Blyth games, where standard admission costs $15, remains to be seen.
The travel company says the payoff is in pride.
“Visit North Korea is nevertheless proud to be able to help support the great English game at a local level and secure publicity for clubs in the north of England,” its website says.