Dear Roker Report,
I’ve seen the article about getting fans in and attendances up at Hetton and read comments saying ground to far out of the city centre etc and to far if you live north of the city. I’m from Roker but have moved to Hetton. Do these people making the comments think SAFCis just for people living north of the river and in the city centre.
SAFC has a long history of being well supported in the community’s around the edge of the city in places like Hetton and Houghton and deserve the chance to watch the women and under 23’s just as much as people north of the river but the issue with women’s game isn’t a problem at Hetton, it’s the same all around the country, very small attendances at the women's game.
Could SAFC not let kids in for free? or even run a bus from the SoL to Hetton? If you look at the Attendances for the under 23s they are very well supported.
Ed’s Note [Rich]: Cheers for your letter Michael, and I’m glad the article from Mark Bradley of the Fan Experience Company got you thinking.
I agree that the location of the Lasses and U23 games in Hetton shouldn’t be a barrier to people attending and that the communities in the south of the city (I’m from near Ryhope) and in County Durham are just as loyal as those in the centre and north of the river and it’s great that they have something on their doorstep.
The biggest issues are those outlined in the article - communication promotion and fan experience. Newcastle got 2,700 through the gates at Gosforth (on the edge of the city) in the FA Cup the other week, Durham regularly get between 500 and 1,000 for a League game. They’re aa small independent club without a couple of billionaires in their ownership group but manage to have physical matchday programmes, proper nice merch, you can buy the shirts in a range of sizes, you can get lovely food at the ground, which has a buzzing matchday atmosphere.
At Newcastle, their board members are vocal in promoting their tier 4 women’s team, they make their players accessible to fan media, they seem to have big plans for the future that they’re hinting at day-in-day-out in their comms.
Is there something unique about the Sunderland fanbase that makes us adverse to supporting the Lasses?
Sunderland AFC’s lack of attention and resources given to promoting the Lasses is blindingly obvious. Add to this the lack of radio commentary, the lack of information about the players - even basic stats, just aren’t there, and you have a situation where even those who want to follow them find it really, really difficult. For example, Tweets from the SAFC Ladies Twitter account often lack basic information regarding when and where games are being played!
Who is Sunderland’s leading goalscorer this season? I know, and I have sites I can visit to find out, but the casual fan can’t get this information from the club’s website. There’s literally no SAFC Ladies merchandise - Sunderland shirts are not even sold in female sizes and you certainly can’t buy one with the Lasses sponsors and badges.
For Sunderland, there’s no leafleting, no poster campaigns, no radio adverts, no announcement at the Stadium of Light about the next fixtures. Parking is an issue at Eppleton, and you’re right - dedicated free transportation from the more heavily populated parts of the city would be a great thing too.
Overall, the club gives the impression that they don’t really care - so why should Sunderland fans care?
On the pricing issue, it’s an interesting one... Free tickets for school kids are often a good ploy to get first time fans through the gates, but then you look at Lewes FC (a town a tenth of the size of Sunderland) which get 500-600 through the gates and consciously price their tickets at the higher end of the FA Women’s Championship.
The idea is that this ensures that the game is valued and people actually turn up, and it allows them to put on better entertainment and facilities. Katy Wyatt wrote an interesting article on this subject in The Athletic on Friday, which might be worth a read if you have a subscription, and it quotes a fantastic video (watch it above) that the Financial Times published earlier in the week where they interviewed Maggie Murphy, Lewes’ CEO. She said “We had to go out and tell people this (their women’s team) is important. You can’t do that if you’re giving tickets away free of charge and if you’re giving them away for just £3.”
I kind of agree with her.
Three #WSL matches have sold out in recent weeks, but if tickets are so cheap and the grounds aren't actually full, is this actually a good thing for the growth of women's football?— The Athletic UK (@TheAthleticUK) February 11, 2022
Is WSL selling itself short?
Dear Roker Report,
I for one would attend [SAFC Ladies] games if they were closer to the SoL or Academy. I reckon the support would increase if they moved the home venue.
Ed’s Note [Rich]: Hi Michael. You can see the previous letter and my response to it that the location of the games is perhaps only one issue amongst many that impacts attendances, and that fans south of the river may find it actually more convenient to get to Hetton.
The FA’s Strategy for Women’s Football outlines their ambition to grow average crowds in the WSL (where we should be aiming to be) to 6,000 and in the Championship (where we currently are) to 1,000 by 2024 off the back of this year’s Euros in England and next year’s World Cup in Australasia. The club needs to invest across the board if it is to be part of the future of the women’s game, and that could very well include finding a new home or redeveloping Eppleton CW.
The Stadium of Light has a couple of issues as a venue - the atmosphere in an almost 50,000 seat arena is pretty sterile even if the Lasses would be able to get 10,000 through the gates, and then there’s the issue of the impact of playing more games on an already crap pitch. The Academy presents similar problems to Eppleton, but for those who live south of the river, and isn’t set up to receive paying punters.
For me - and this is very much a pipe dream - the club would be looking to invest in a smaller venue, with top-class facilities for players and supporters that could host women’s and age-group football. If this could be located in a part of Sunderland that needs regeneration, that has good transport links, and is close to where hundreds of thousands of people live (Commercial Road in Hendon would be perfect - taking us back to our spiritual home) it might actually be a money-spinner for the club in the long term.
Maybe one day we will see the club’s strategy for women’s football and these questions could be answered.