I, like many other Sunderland supporters, read today’s club announcement regarding season card renewals for the forthcoming 2020/21 campaign with real intrigue.
The SAFC.com Q&A - which you can read here - gave fans more of an insight into how Sunderland AFC plan to approach next season in the likely event that spectators will not be able to attend games in person at the Stadium of Light.
Sadly, I feel disappointed and let down having read their response to some valid concerns from loyal supporters. As a season card holder of almost twenty-five years, it feels as though the needs of both myself and my fellow match-going supporters are unlikely to be met in the event things play out in the manner that we expect them to.
In short - should the 2020/21 campaign be played out behind closed doors, all I’ll receive in receipt of my £310 season card is access to a streaming pass for home games.
Whilst there is no real precedent when it comes to season card holders having to watch games from home, the price of a streaming pass last season for international supporters - allowing them to watch games both home and away - was just £110.
So, for an extra £200 your season card will grant you access to only half the amount of games that our exiled fans abroad are able to view, using the exact same platform.
The club stated clearly that no consideration will be given to handing out partial or even full refunds should season card holders choose to go ahead with their renewals - the only real incentive in all of this being that, in the event that games are played out in front of smaller, spaced out crowds, those who choose to renew will be given priority.
So that leaves me and thousands of others with a decision - do you renew, knowing you could end up paying a fortune for a home-only streaming pass, or do you cancel, protecting yourself but taking vital income away from the club at a time when it needs to scrape in every last possible penny that they can?
As a colleague graciously put it to me earlier: the club’s owners are stretching the goodwill and patience of the fans to a perilously thin level. It’s audacious to say the least.
Who in their right mind would give them any money when it’s not guaranteed you will get a product? Even if a time comes where there is a product, the demand is such that you’ll be able to buy it at your leisure later. It certainly feels as though they’re shafting themselves.
To a lot of fans, SAFC’s handling of season card renewals will be tough to stomach. A primarily not-well-off fanbase are being asked to continue to pay for something that the club may or may not be able to provide them with, at a time when the owners have found themselves under the microscope after it was revealed they used the club’s own parachute payment money to help fund their purchase from Ellis Short.
Whilst the majority of season card holders are familiar with technology and how to successfully stream games from home, there will be others that will struggle, or simply don’t have the ability or technology available to them to use a streaming pass. Yet, they find themselves in a position whereby they have to decide whether or not to fork out for a season card that they may never actually get to use.
Families who live together and also own multiple season cards find themselves in a tough spot, too. Regardless of the fact that a family living together are likely to watch games under the same roof, they’d each be required to renew regardless. One Roker Report contributor told me today that he has five season card holders living under his roof, yet they’d only need one streaming pass in the event that the new season plays out behind closed doors. The club have refused to refund families who have this particular set of circumstances to contend with.
In theory, the club could end up selling more season cards than fans allowed in the stadium if/when football returns to the Stadium of Light. If that happens, how do they go about deciding who is allowed to attend games? You’ve paid your money... so imagine you then can’t actually be in attendance, when other fellow fans can. It just doesn’t feel right.
People who pay more for their tickets in the west stand or the Black Cats Bar will be paying more than anyone else for the exact same product. Those with a kids ticket - which were priced at £40 in some areas of the ground last season - will be given access to the exact same product, but will end up paying far less for it.
Many of the people I attend games with plan on cancelling rather than renewing, simply because the package being offered to supporters in the event they can’t attend games is absolutely terrible. There is no incentive whatsoever to renew. Perhaps something with even a little bit of innovation would have helped - instead, we’re being offered a vastly inferior product to what we’d normally get, at the same price, with the club unwilling to be more flexible when it comes to the individual concerns and needs of their customer base.
I imagine that there will be a lot of pushback from supporters in the aftermath of the release of the club’s Q&A, and rightly so. It certainly feels like we’re being taken advantage of.
Ultimately, I think this whole situation could have been handled far better. Whilst the club have taken questions from supporter groups, I do wonder how much they’ve actually listened to the concerns of the people who this matters to most.
I had a feeling that the season card renewal argument might rumble on for a while. Today’s news has changed my mind. This will make people’s minds up for them.