While the cutbacks are a necessary evil in Martin Bain's overhaul of Sunderland's finances, the timing of the announcement is unfortunate and challenges the club's 'Unity is strength - Keep the faith' PR campaign.
The announcement comes with Sunderland facing unparalleled financial pressures. The 2014-15 accounts show that the club made a loss of £25m, an increase of 49% on the previous season - only QPR and Aston Villa posted a bigger loss. The wage bill rose by 11% to £77.1m - the 9th highest in the league - representing 76% of the club's turnover, yet the club's revenue was only the 15th highest in the Premier League, while annual interest payments sat at £6m. In total, Sunderland haven't posted a profit since 2006 and their total losses (before tax) amount to £170m. As a result, the club's debt has risen to around £140m.
Bain has been employed to fix this, or at least attempt to. He said of today's decision:
In recent months we have undertaken a detailed review of the club’s entire operation.
It is clear that the business had lost its focus and we now have to ensure that we are better equipped to be able to concentrate on the areas that are key to taking Sunderland AFC forward.
Our infrastructure provides a tremendous platform and it is important that we capitalise on this by channeling our efforts into those areas that will have an impact.
We want to ensure that the football club is in the best possible position to grow stronger, both on and off the field.
Streamlining the club's operations is a difficult, yet necessary evil, a fact that has not escaped him:
The decisions have not been taken lightly. The internal process required in order to undertake the changes has already commenced and club staff have been advised of the procedures and timescales involved.
The threat of redundancy is never good, and the timing of the announcement seems unfortunate at the very least.
The club are in the middle of a fan-targeted, 'unity is strength - keep the faith' PR campaign, urging supporters to continue to believe in the club's almost mystical powers of survival.
Fans have been urged to 'show your stripes', while they can meet Samson and Delilah and members of the first team squad throughout the week. They were also treated to a free open training session on Monday, allowing fans to see their heroes up close and personal. Bain has spoken of the club needing to be "synonymous with its North East identity", and this apparent charm offensive, combined with visits to Nissan and Moyes speaking of fans in the surrounding areas, represents an effort to achieve that.
Yet workers from the region are set to be relieved of their employment, and the sight of millionaire footballers under-performing on the pitch, struggling to show much unity, is likely to cause some annoyance among Sunderland fans. Poor performances on the pitch have directly affected results off it, and some fans may struggle to 'keep the faith' after witnessing the consequences. The news has certainly proved divisive on ReadyToGo, with more than 200 messages posted discussing the decision.
On the other hand, the news may galvanise the players. You'd certainly expect them to realise what they are fighting for with livelihoods at stake. It should serve as extra motivation in their fight against relegation.
There's also the 'issue' of the 'team bonding' trip to New York, which is likely to have come at a considerable cost. George Honeyman considered it a success, telling The Chronicle:
I’ve never known the dressing room so loud. I think it has had the perfect effect so far from what I can tell. Training was the highest tempo I’ve seen it this season so, so far, so good.
It was hard work, we knew it was going to be that. The first running session was harder than anything I’d done in pre-season, I was so taken aback.
Coming back from the trip, I’ve never known it as boisterous in the changing room. That can only be a good sign for me.
But some questioned whether the trip across the Atlantic was really necessary. Full details of what took place in New York have yet to be revealed, and probably won't be, but today's news has cast further doubts over its necessity in these times of financial ruin. Only time will tell in that regard.
Nonetheless, the club is run as a business, and loss of employment is a harsh occupational hazard. As unfortunate as this news is, Bain's main aim is to ensure that the club is in the best financial position possible. And sometimes tough decisions have to be made to achieve that, no matter how much of a sour taste that they may leave.
We wish those impacted by this news all the best.