Over the past couple of years, Sunderland haven’t got much right off the field.
While Jim Rodwell’s calamitous spell as CEO (remember the refunds debacle, as well as the dismissive answers the club published in response to supporter questions?) seemed to set a low bar for those that followed, Steve Davison – the club’s COO – hasn’t seemed to have had the best time in charge to date.
From the mess the club made about its migration to digital ticketing – alienating hundreds, if not thousands, of match-going seniors in the process – and moving to a ‘cashless’ Stadium of Light, it’s made decisions that may have made sense on a spreadsheet, but certainly didn’t in reality.
Take the Stadium of Light club shop, for example. Closing that for large chunks of the season may have saved on some (minimum) wages, but for what? It’s a sad reality that it’s far easier to buy the shirts of most Premier League clubs – including our Saudi Arabian neighbours up the road – in Sunderland than it is to buy a Sunderland shirt.
Throw in the season card disaster of last season – unbranded cards turning up late without any communication of any description – the ‘ownership percentage’ revelations, and the mess it made of appointing Lee Johnson’s successor, and it’s fair to say the club’s had yet another poor year off the field.
When season card price hikes were mentioned at the Red & White Army supporters’ meeting with the club, it seemed as though the club was set to increase the prices for season card holders, on the verge of yet another season of third division football.
Of course, that’s the nature of season card renewals at Sunderland, isn’t it? We’re never really certain where we’ll be when August comes around, so renewing is yet another leap of faith, clinging on to hope, or good old blind loyalty, which Sunderland supporters have in spades, but is often taken for granted.
So, while we’ve called the club out on some god-awful off-field decisions over the past few years, it’s only fair to acknowledge when they get something right.
And this week’s season card renewal information was pretty much spot on.
Not only are many supporters reporting their renewal prices are lower than this season’s, but the club has also included free access to Sunderland Ladies and men’s Under 23 games, as well as discounted club shop purchases (on the proviso you can find the club shop open, of course).
On releasing the news, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus said:
When I met with our Supporters’ Groups earlier this month, they expressed the importance of ensuring that football at the Stadium of Light remains accessible and affordable to all within our community. I agree that we must strive to meet that standard, especially in these economically uncertain times, and support all those that continue to commit to Sunderland AFC throughout good times and bad.
It is no secret that we have endured a challenging period and that we have an immense amount of work to do, but I firmly believe that we are on the right path to rebuilding our football club and that we can achieve our ultimate goal of promotion this season.
Of course, cynics will say this is merely a PR exercise to buy back some goodwill after the shares ‘cover up’, and there’s probably an element of truth in that. However, regardless of that going on in the background, a price increase would not have gone down well at all.
I know it’s a cliche to say that without the supporters our football club – any football club – is nothing, but that doesn’t stop it from being true.
People running the club come and go, but we’re here, the one constant – and ultimately we know far more about the club, the realities of SAFC, than anyone behind the scenes, but far too often we’re treated as an inconvenience.
Nevertheless, by – finally – showing a bit of humility and care for its supporters, listening to feedback, doing their bit when the cost of living is skyrocketing and things aren’t going particularly well on the field, either, it’s hopefully taken a small step towards truly appreciating the tens – hundreds – of thousands of people who put money into the club year after year.
And that’s got to be applauded.
Even if it may not look as good as it could do on a spreadsheet.