In 1999 the Sky Group, then known as BSkyB, bought a 5% stake in Sunderland AFC. Back then the club were riding high, and whilst we are not back to those levels just yet there is a growing sense of optimism once more following our first promotion in 15 years.
Back in the Championship and looking to continue moving in the right direction, the fan base seems onside - and it may well be the case that Sky decides to take a bit more interest in us again too.
The 2022-23 fixture release was a nice reminder that we have finally dragged ourselves out of League One. There were some intriguing games to look forward to as well, not least the season opener at home to Coventry City.
The spectacle is due to be shown live on Sky Sports, and whilst it was good to see that we’d not been forgotten about over the last few years there are plenty of match-going fans that will hope it doesn’t become a regular thing.
Admittedly, it wasn’t that much of a surprise the game was selected for broadcast – both clubs come from large, single-team cities that could boost viewer numbers, whilst the recent needle between the two means there is a bit of interest for the neutral. Those attending in person might not be as keen, however, with the early kick-off time putting a spanner in the works for anybody that looks forward to their usual pre-match meet-ups or pints.
When Sunderland last played at this level the first game of the campaign was also shown on Sky Sports. The next match, in the Carabao Cup at Bury, was on telly too, but as results started to drop the side didn’t tend to feature as often. We are coming in on an upward trajectory this time though and if the Lads can make a fist of it, you could see us becoming regular features.
It probably makes a lot of sense to broadcast from the Stadium of Light. From what I understand, the facilities are such that setting up is a lot easier than at some other grounds, whilst the product is always going to be better if the crowd gets going and is creating an atmosphere in the background.
Sunderland’s average gates and the fact they have a huge fan base dotted around the country could also make away games an appealing option too – the execs and advertisers are not going to turn their nose up at having thousands of additional punters tuning in after all.
As well as being good for Sky’s business, being on the box can benefit the club too; an increase in commercial activity is expected on the back of promotion, but the big bonus is the likely increase in TV revenues.
Home teams are thought to receive up to £100,000 for every game they are shown, with some estimates suggesting Sunderland could to receive between £6 and 8 million more this term as part of the current broadcast deal with the Football League.
We saw with Netflix just how much good a bit of national or international attention can be for the ‘brand’. Even at some of the lowest points in the club’s history we’ve been able to attract new supporters because of being in the spotlight, but there are downsides to be factored in also.
A late change to calendar can be inconvenient, and having kick-off times scattered across the weekend makes planning harder for a lot of people, not least the players and management who may have a preferred routine or want to prepare in a certain way.
A lot of footballers seem to favour playing in the evening, so the Friday night matches might actually be a good thing. Playing before your rivals and looking to steal a march on them can also work well, but there is no guarantee that you are not going to end up with more dinner time starts and they can invariably be harder to get into the zone for.
The chopping and changing became a particular bugbear at Leeds United, who during 2015-16 sought to ban the cameras from Elland Road, and as Sunderland are a similar draw for audiences it is something to keep an eye on.
The extra money and exposure being on TV is usually very welcome, but if it comes at the cost of becoming a slave to the schedules and losing the rhythm of the season it may not be worth it. Sunderland fans will have to watch this space, therefore…