To start, it would be remiss of myself to write an article about PR blunders and not reference my own before I start.
So, with that in mind, I’d like to start by apologising for my very own blunder on our Friday Night Live show where, due to a more than unfortunate choice of word (see ”people” when instead ”one another” was the appropriate term) upset and offended a lot of people.
Such is the beauty and nature of live broadcasting - especially amateur - what is said is neither scripted nor polished, which of course opens oneself up to any amount of blunders or mistakes.
Because of that I would firstly like to reiterate my apology as well as explain to those who don’t know me (those that do know the likelihood of me defending certain individuals is minimal to non-existent) that it was never my intention to intimate that fans are ’uneducated’, and that what was said was simply a poor choice of wording as oppose to anything sinister or otherwise.
With that out of the way and a steep learning curve traversed, in the wake of one of the most tumultuous months in Sunderland’s long and proud history, the club seem to be thundering headfirst into another PR disaster. This time in the shape of season tickets.
As suggested in the minutes released by RAWA in the wake of their meeting with senior officials at the club, not only would the club be working on clearer communication and fan engagement in the wake of what has been a testing period, there was also a suggestion that season ticket prices would not be - at the very least - frozen for next season onwards.
At this juncture it is important to stress that nothing at this stage is set in stone and there is a suggestion that so-called ”early bird” prices will be offered, however, anything other than a freeze on prices seems to fall some way short of what fans would both like and except to see.
It's quite easy to see why not freezing ticket prices would be a wholly unpopular decision and one that shouldn’t need too much explaining. The first and most prominent reason is in the fact that Sunderland are facing an unprecedented fifth season in football's third tier.
Season after season the lads have been backed with we’ll in excess of 20,000 season ticket holders and have averaged attendances over 30,000 since their drop into the third tier* (*barring the 20/21 season due to covid).
This unequivocal support for the lads has been reiterated in the last month with a bumper attendance of over 38,000 turning out in a week where Sunderland we’re battered 6-0 away from home and sacked their manager, supplementing that with a midweek sell-out at Cheltenham and a sell-out of a near 5000 allocation away to Wigan at the end of the month.
The support here is fanatical and one thing it should not be is taken for granted. As many fans have suggested so far, the mere hint of a further price rise is not even close to a reward for unwavering loyalty in the most turbulent times Sunderland have ever faced. Accompany that to the debacle surrounding shares and those who hold them at the club, many fans will find this to be the straw that breaks the camel's back.
The club has spent many a week now on the back foot and struggling to navigate an ever-changing landscape of opinion surrounding the club. At this stage, I don’t think it would be unreasonable for those at the top to take a step back for a second and read the room.
Without getting too political (because that could *really* go on) many fans are facing an unmitigated cost of living crisis. With 2022 already set to be one of, if not *the*, most expensive years on record in terms of cost of living, the ”year of the squeeze” is only set to get more extreme. With energy bills set to sky-rocket even further, inflation at a 30 year high and the consumer price index only going one way, is it really wise to ask fans to start stumping up even more cash to watch their team play at their lowest ebb?
As we know, the North East has one of the lowest average salaries in the UK which means, by default, the purchase of a season ticket takes a larger chunk out of someones disposable income than it otherwise would elsewhere, this is a disposable income that is shrinking by the day.
To many, football is an escape or their main social interaction for the week, whether it’s a chance to see friends and family or a chance to get away from the wife and kids. Match days really are a precious moment in the week for so many and to potentially rob people of that escape - or even part of it - due to a price increase should come as almost unthinkable.
Not only this, but accompanying a match day are vital services, with charity collections, food bank collections and the ’fans supporting fans’ mental health hub - services that outside of a match day, people may not contribute to or access.
These are services that may be indirectly affected by lowered attendances due to none-renewals and again, should come within what should be careful consideration as to whether or not prices should be increased.
The fact is, and will remain, that is also possible to implement a price freeze with Premier League clubs such as Manchester United and Brighton (who have recently announced their second successive year of price freezes) have done so and has been met with much acclaim.
The solution then is pretty straightforward for all involved. Not only would the club benefit by freezing ticket prices in order to encourage further renewals, but it would also pre-emptively stop potential fall out further down the line.
This is a chance not only for the club to begin to redeem themselves after a turbulent month but to also show an appreciation for the unwavering support they have been shown over the last 4 years, after all, how many clubs could fall as far as we have and still get 30,000 through the door?
In League One, Sunderland should be leading the way, both on and off the pitch. It should be a club that listens to and understands its fans, whose loyalty cannot be brought into question. Quite frankly, Sunderland fans at the very least deserve to not have their season ticket prices increased. It’s a small gesture that would go a long, long way.