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Shrinking crowds & Concourse closure: can we do anything to halt Sunderland’s saddening decline?

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With relegation to League One looking increasingly likely, can Sunderland perhaps do more to encourage fans to come back next season? New ownership is needed, but could the club perhaps act in order to help build bridges in the meantime?

Sunderland v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Late last week news emerged from within the club that a decision had been made to close the Premier Concourse next season. The confirmation was received with mixed emotions from the Sunderland fanbase.

Although it seems a pertinent move to many considering how sparsely populated the stadium has been this season, others see the closure of the Concourse and the relocation of the 1,000+ fans as a sign of resignation that the club is on the path to relegation with little hope of survival and has subsequently enacted cost-saving measures already.

That being said, whether it’s merely harsh pragmatism or an admittance of defeat, Sunderland will close the Premier Concourse next season in the hope of filling the lower sections of the stadium and generating more of an atmosphere whilst simultaneously reducing costs.

The club’s letter explaining the decision to close the upper tier for home support stated:

We believe that closing the Premier Concourse will help us to improve match atmosphere, whilst also reducing the costs associated with safety stewards and kiosk staff in the area.

However, the question must be asked whether fans will return to the Stadium of Light in substantial numbers next season if we are relegated? If attendances continue to plummet, which they likely will with a successive relegation, then the argument of improved match atmosphere doesn’t hold much sway.

In order to better understand the opinion of the fanbase, we polled our readers asking those with season cards whether they would be renewing next season. The results were clear to see.

Should those percentages hold true, next season could very well be a depressing affair in terms of home support.

Increased investment and fresh ownership would go a long way to bringing back the masses, but that doesn’t seem particularly likely right now, and takeovers are often slow, tedious affairs. So, could the club perhaps find another way to tempt fans to come back to the SoL next season?

Listening in to last week’s Roker Rapport podcast I was impressed with the lads’ ideas about potential ways in which the club could encourage fans to renew/purchase a season card and I wholeheartedly agree with the concept of reduced costs in line with increased sales.

Simply put, the more season cards purchased, the less they cost. I can’t help but feel something like this could be instrumental in helping the club bring fans back.

I’m no marketing expert, but a campaign like the once just mentioned could surely be implemented with the aim of increasing ticket sales whilst also helping generate a sense of community and pride. The campaign would likely focus on the importance of the fans, and would be simple in its delivery; essentially, the club needs our support both physically and fiscally, and we need to come together in order to ensure the club has the best possible chance of finding success.

Of course, many will argue that the fans have sacrificed enough, and that cannot be ignored. However, the very real threat of administration should the club fail to find a buyer will linger over our heads so long as we continue to bleed money - an emptying stadium will do little to halt our intensifying slide toward oblivion.

Moving forward, the only things that will catalyze our failing club are fresh investment and the passion of the fans. Should we succumb to relegation again this season the club must find a way to reconnect with a heavily fractured fanbase.

Something needs to change, and we’re not talking about cost-cutting measures and meagre attempts at improving the ground’s atmosphere. No, the club needs to find a unique way to encourage the Mackem faithful back into the ground if we want to find success.

Owners, managers and players will all come and go, but the Sunderland faithful will always remain. Reconnecting with the fanbase and helping forge a community spirit could well be key to any chance of future success. New ownership is needed, and so too is fresh investment; however, should neither of those materialise then it will be down to the fans to rally around the club and help rebuild it. This could be a great chance to reinvigorate the club.