A crushingly dull, football-free weekend was enlivened on Sunday when an eye-catching story regarding average attendances across the European leagues came to light.
Granted, it was published by the professional motormouths at TalkSPORT, but we’ll forgive them on this occasion because we were at the very heart of it.
In Italy, the struggles of Juventus under the beleaguered Massimiliano Allegri have been well documented but it was still impressive to read that this season so far, Sunderland’s average home league attendance has been higher than that of the ‘Old Lady’ at their Allianz Stadium home.
From four matches our average attendance is over 38,000, putting us not only ahead of Juventus but also their fellow continental aristocrats Fiorentina, Napoli and Sevilla, among others.
With that in mind, the question is how the club can continue to ensure that these numbers are sustained over the course of what is sure to be a campaign filled with ups and downs.
Curiously, our home record so far isn’t sparkling.
We’ve racked up two draws, a loss, and a single victory, but that hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm for our first Championship campaign since 2017/2018, and Saturday’s game against Preston is almost certain to be witnessed by another huge and expectant Wearside crowd (doubtless bolstered by a strong Lancashire contingent).
In the first instance, reopening the Premier Concourse for some of the season’s more prestigious home fixtures would surely be an option worth exploring. They flirted with it for the first game against Coventry, but perhaps they could now go one step further.
The memorable Boxing Day encounter with Bradford in 2018 - a dismal match played out against a raucous full house, hinted at what could be achieved given a bit of creative marketing, some rallying from the boardroom, and belief among the supporters that the club was actually going somewhere.
As it was we would have to wait another three and half years to finally escape League One, during which time home attendances remained extremely strong, despite a multitude of false dawns and setbacks along the way.
Now we are finally back in the second tier, and the entire dynamic has changed.
Would they consider opening the upper tier of the West Stand for the visit of Middlesbrough in January, or perhaps when Sheffield United arrive on Wearside next March?
These are sure to be big occasions that might even be televised, and if we are still in the playoff picture by that stage - or certainly on the fringes of it - a full house would be more than achievable.
Over the years packed houses at the stadium have often made the difference.
Think of the countless occasions during the 1998/1999 and 2006/2007 seasons when the Lads were taking on opponents in front of 40,000+ on a weekly basis. The value of that kind of support cannot be understated.
It is absolutely imperative that the club seizes this opportunity and ensures that everything is being done to keep fans onside and keep the turnstiles clicking because let’s face it: if pulling in more supporters than arguably the most glamorous footballing institution in Italy doesn’t spark the marketing department into life, what will?
Despite the brilliant ‘Til The End’ campaign that drove Sunderland’s playoff run last season, there was a consensus during the summer that an open goal had been missed regarding PR for our Championship return, but our strong start got them off the hook, to some extent.
Given the positive style of football we are currently playing, and the youthful, exciting profile of the squad, watching games live is a genuinely enjoyable experience once more.
After a good deal of criticism regarding fan engagement and customer service it’s time for Steve Davison and his people to embrace, rather than fear, the possibilities and to start ramping the quality of the club’s infrastructure to the level at which it should be.
With things on the pitch looking ever more positive, now is the time to invest time and effort into other previously-neglected areas of the club.
Give the fans a reason to believe, keep the football attractive, stick to the new ethos, and we will respond with full backing as we have done during the past quarter-century at the Stadium of Light.