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Sunderland Ladies v Birmingham City Women: Barclays FA Women’s Championship

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Opinion! Despite the pre-match optimism, Sunderland's back-to-back home matches did not deliver

Sunderland’s home double-header, with the Lads and Lasses playing in the same stadium on the same day, ultimately fell short of expectations. Kyle Garrett looks at what went wrong, and how the club can learn from their mistakes

Photo by Ashley Allen - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

Off the field, the Sunderland board have worked hard to give SAFC Women a chance of returning to the Women’s Super League after we were bought out of it in 2018.

Since gaining promotion to the Championship a couple of years ago, they have turned the role of manager into a permanent position, allowing for more time to be set aside to work on tactics and player recruitment.

In addition, they have also invested a lot of time in player development, with the Lasses boasting an array of young, exciting English talent. This maintains our tradition of producing players of such class, in the shape of Jill Scott, Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze and Beth Mead, to name a few.

WSL 1: Sunderland AFC Ladies v Chelsea Ladies FC Photo by Ian Horrocks - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

One thing that Sunderland AFC Women have always struggled with, however, is attendances.

When games were held at Eppleton, they would often play in front of small crowds, but after the excitement and success of the Women’s Euros, it became the perfect opportunity for the game to grow and to reach new audiences.

People were initially confused when Birmingham City Women announced they were playing their game at the Stadium of Light because the men’s team were playing Norwich in the Championship on the same day. However, somewhat belatedly, we eventually got round to letting people know about it.

Previously, we hosted a pre-season game against Nottingham Forest for which entry was free. That encouraged around 1,000 people to go and support the Lasses, but to try and pack a 49,000 seater stadium was a big ask.

One of the main reasons for the failure of the double-header was the lack of marketing and thought process for the event.

During the fourteen days after announcing it, the club had plenty of opportunities to advertise the event, whether that was to people in the local area through youth groups, or online with digital content that would have enticed people to stay for the Lasses. As it was, there simply wasn’t enough media attention, and the event wasn’t pushed enough by the club.

This set up a disappointing afternoon during which less than 1,300 people stayed behind to watch the second game, and the club also didn’t do enough to plug the gap between the men’s game finishing and the women’s starting.

After a 0-1 defeat at the hands of the Canaries, the last thing people wanted to do was sit around and wait an hour and a half in the stadium with watered-down pints, overpriced food and a dodgy PA system blasting out rock music. They could’ve had local musicians in the concourse providing some sort of entertainment and there needed to be more for the kids to enjoy while they waited for kickoff.

Sunderland v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Another reason that the vast majority didn’t stay behind was the fact that the men lost their game. In fairness, there’s not much the staff could’ve done about this, but they should've used their common sense.

For the event to have been a success, they should have either put the men on first in a game they would’ve most likely won, or put the women’s team on first, to entice people into the ground for some added entertainment.

With the Lads’ game being broadcast on Sky Sports, the latter was impossible logistically, but the club should have envisaged exactly what would’ve happened if the men lost. Who knows, if more people had stayed behind, the Lasses might not have got off to such a bad start!

The club will hopefully learn from this, and should they try the double header idea again, they need to advertise it properly, communicate effectively, and think smartly.

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