A draw with Burnley at the Stadium of Light last weekend left the club rooted to the bottom of the table sitting on 20 points after 28 games where we find ourselves 7 points from safety with 10 games left to play. It’s grim reading for even the most ardent of Sunderland fans, and hope is fast waning.
In the wake of the rather disappointing result we took to Twitter to ask our fans whether they would be renewing their season cards ahead of what looks to be a campaign spent in the EFL Championship. The results were interesting to say the least.
Are you renewing your season card? #SAFC - please retweet. Genuinely interested in polling as many current SC holders as possible.— Roker Report (@RokerReport) March 19, 2017
As you can see the vote was relatively close with a slight majority stating that they would continue to support the club come what may next season. The steadfast determination by the majority in their loyalty to the club is something to praise - they will be central to our future success, and they must be applauded for their loyalty.
That being said, the other 46% are well within their rights to show their displeasure via one of the only tangible ways in which they can voice their discontent - voting with their feet. They have had enough of the dross served up to us season after season in the Premier League, and need some time away from the club. Some want their weekends back while others view this as an opportunity to show Ellis Short and co. that enough is enough.
Both sets of fans are well within their rights, and neither are wrong in their assertions; this is very much a case of each to their own. This article was not written in order to point fingers and further fracture a strained fan base, but rather explore what this poll might mean for the club and how those disillusioned by recent seasons might be won back.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that the club have no inkling whatsoever that season card sales will decrease should we be relegated; their recent move to further make ticket prices more affordable is testament to the fact that they know sales will be down should we be relegated. However, if our poll is indicative of a wider-scale trend, then perhaps eyebrows need to be raised a little higher?
The Daily Star claimed back in July 2016 that Sunderland had sold around 28,000 season cards ahead of this season - a number which could certainly have increased in the meantime. To potentially lose 46% of that number would leave us with just over 16,000 fans in the SoL next season as season card holders - a painfully small core group of fans.
A reduction in season tickets can have an enormous impact on a club both financially and in a sense, emotionally. Empty seats don’t just signal a fiscal loss, but also a loss in confidence which could potentially harm the club in other ways, too. Losing young fans could potentially harm future growth for example, whilst a lack of atmosphere could hinder the squad’s confidence next season. Both negative impacts created by a loss of season card holders.
The club are faced with a troubling situation that they must now try and alleviate in order to maximize any potential for future success. Fans need to be incentivized into wanting to return to the SoL next season, and while cheaper tickets are certainly a great start, there is certainly more that can be done.
Obviously the easiest way to entice people back for more is to win games - something we’ve struggled with all season obviously, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this discussion. However, perhaps the manner in our displays has been something that could certainly be addressed. In another recent poll we asked fans if they felt we would survive relegation this season and an overwhelming majority of 87% of the 1,500+ fans who responded thought relegation was a foregone conclusion. So if that is the general consensus then perhaps David Moyes can be a little more daring with his style of play. Why not play Khazri, Januzaj and Defoe together? Why not release the shackles and let the Lads go for it? What’s the worst that could happen - lose a few more points? So what. A strong finish to the campaign - even with relegation - would be much appreciated and could certainly encourage fans to give up a minimum of 23 weekends to the club.
On a similar theme, this summer will also be crucial in terms of mood generated. Positive steps in the transfer market and clarity with the fan base will help the fans regain trust. They will want to come back if the foundations are there for a fighting chance of success. If we lurch from crisis to crisis, selling players, whilst doing little to rebuild the squad; well that would do very little to encourage the fans that we can emerge from this relegation a stronger outfit. Serious damage could be inflicted on fan relations this summer should Short, Bain and co. fail to manager expectations.
After a few hours to contemplate today's performance, how do you feel we will dare come season's end?— Roker Report (@RokerReport) March 18, 2017
As previously noted, this article wasn’t intended to point fingers and cause friction. Instead I wanted to point out that fans seem to be far more disillusioned than some people might think. This in turn could have an incredibly negative impact on the club in general, and it is the duty of the club’s hierarchy to assuage our angst through proactive endeavors. Lowering ticket prices is a great beginning, but that alone will not suffice.
There is a tangible air of catharsis surrounding the coming weeks, you can feel that whatever happens next could potentially make or break our club. The fans are upset, the squad are underperforming and the table doesn’t lie - right now we’re the worst team in the Premier League, and it looks like our time might be up.
Right now it’s the club’s turn to prove to us why we should return next season; why should fans give up their hard-earned time and money to support a team that has done little other than cause such disappointment? We need to be convinced why it’s all worthwhile.