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Editorial: Time to start raising the standards at Sunderland - and not just on the pitch

“By not having shirts and merchandise available for the next generation to buy, KLD and Steve Davison are taking a huge unnecessary risk,” writes Martin Wanless.

Photo by Paul Thomas/Getty Images

From a footballing perspective, there’s plenty to be optimistic about at SAFC. On the field, we – finally – got some positivity with promotion back to the championship, and off the field on the football side, there’s seemingly been a good infrastructure built with scouting and player recruitment – and a renewed emphasis on the academy.

Off the field, however, I don’t think it’s unfair to say it’s a bit of a mess.

Putting the ongoing ownership crap to one side for a moment, we seem to have completely lost the plot when it comes to the ‘business’ side of things.

Given the realities of Sunderland AFC at present, and what’s going on up the road, we should be fighting tooth and nail to have a huge presence in the region.

But it looks like we’ve just given up.

Football clubs are the heartbeat of a community, and unfortunately, KLD and Steve Davison have completely overlooked this when evaluating the potential and opportunity that having a fully functioning club shop and ticket office, and having merchandise available to buy across the north east.

It’s been mentioned a couple of times this week on Roker Report, but our podcast interviewer extraordinaire Chris Wynn was trying to buy a shirt for his young lad’s birthday. It’s the first time his boy’s asked for a Sunderland shirt and he obviously wanted to seize the opportunity. Could he get one? Could he hell.

Nothing on the website. The club shop’s shut. It’s missed opportunity after missed opportunity.

Soccer - Capital One Cup - Second Round - Sunderland v MK Dons - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers - PA Images via Getty Images

Mr Davison’s data may tell him that, on paper, the club shop’s not worth opening – but that’s missing the point entirely, and underlines that a football club cannot be run like any other business. It’s far, far more nuanced and complex than anything else out there.

Having a fully stocked, and fully operational club shop almost acts as a litmus test for the perceived health of the club.

At present, we may as well have the windows boarded up.

We’ve got to show some commercial nous and savviness – we’ve got to be there so that when the kids of the north east and beyond want a Sunderland shirt it’s easy and simple for them to get one.

In the medium to long-term, with what’s going on up at the never-been-so-aptly named Gallowgate, we’ve got a hell of a battle on our hands to entice people to follow Sunderland rather than stray over to the darkside. We’ve got to be there, in the community, face-to-face, at schools, at clubs, holding events to bring people in.

We’ve got to have shirts and merchandise readily and freely available.

We’ve almost got to flood the market to stand a chance of being a relatively attractive option for youngsters.

Because when it’s time to buy a football shirt, and they can’t get a Sunderland one, what are they going to do? They’re going to buy whatever they can get their hands on, and it’s an opportunity lost. Game over. A generation missed.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Sunderland v Fulham - Stadium of Light
We’ve got to make it easy for people to buy club merchandise.
Photo by Richard Sellers - PA Images via Getty Images

KLD and Davison have had a bit of a free pass on this issue to date, due in large part to the post-Covid world we’re living in, but for the long-term interests of our club, we simply cannot continue with this alienating approach.

We saw it last summer with unbranded season cards being hugely symbolic of the off-field approach. We’ve seen it this summer with a lack of any real marketing to build on the momentum created at Wembley.

We’ve got to stop being so amateur off the field. Get the ticket office open, get the club shop stocked and welcome in the community. Get merchandise vans packed around the stadium on match days. Start promoting the club and generate some excitement about the new season.

We’ve got to be bold with this. Because, if we’re not, we’re losing a generation of supporters and we’ll never get them back.

It’s as simple as that.

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