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Sunderland AFC v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League

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What is the one thing you’d most like to change about the club?

Great progress has been made on the pitch at Sunderland in recent times, but there are still plenty of other areas that could be improved. We asked our writers for their thoughts

Photo by Ian Horrocks - Sunderland AFC/Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says...

I’d really love the club to get a proper grip of its retail department.

We must be losing millions in revenue every year, money that I’m sure we could invest in the club for the better, and frankly it drives me mad.

The football is going pretty well, which is a great base to build on. We’re back in a decent division in which we’re thriving and improving all the time, with a strategy and a playing style that the fans increasingly adore.

With that in mind, why are we so awful in terms of ticketing and general merchandising?

For way too long, it’s been very hard to spend money on merch related to our hometown club.

From the shop often being less accessible than my father-in-law’s wallet in the local pub, to the ticketing being difficult for those who are less ‘online capable’, the club seems to be doing its very best to make the least money possible on upselling and cross-selling to a huge and captive audience.

If you don’t voluntarily miss ten minutes of football at home games, you generally can’t get a beer or brew at half time, as the queues are massive and totally disorganised. By the time you do get to the front, all the heated food is gone.

Most weeks, if you were to leave your seat on the half time whistle and stick it out and wait for a beer and a pie (despite Tony Mowbray being fond of making substitutions around the hour mark) there’s a good chance you’ll miss the first replacements running coming off the Sunderland bench. It’s a total mess.

It’s a sad state of affairs when our fans can’t buy a Sunderland strip very easily in their own city centre, too.

Whatever happened to being able to go into The Bridges or up the high street and purchase a shirt on the way to the game, or on a weekend when you’re in town for something else anyway?

I get that we had to reduce the overheads in League One, which sadly meant club shop and other non-essential staff losing their jobs. That said, surely now that we’re in our second season in the Championship and with the best average attendance in the league, we can do a bit better with selling football shirts in the city centre?

Christmas is coming and we’re in the top six, so why aren’t we capitalising on it with pop-up shops where you can get strips, scarves, mugs and hats?

There are rafts of empty units in Sunderland, and surely it wouldn’t be that expensive to turn one of them into our new city-based club shop.

The Stadium of Light is a stone’s throw from the city centre, but you wouldn’t know the stadium is a ten minute walk from The Bridges these past few years, such is the total lack of promotion of the club in that area.

The great progress on the pitch is something I’m over the moon about, but if the club doesn’t make it easier for us to spend money, our return to the top level will take even longer.

The club needs every penny it can get to achieve Premier League promotion and to be competitive in that league, so let’s sort out this shoddy and half-arsed retail operation.

Right now, the football is leagues above that side of the business, which is unnecessary and bordering on stupid.

Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Phil West says…

At the moment, and although I agree with Malc’s point about the retail operation, I think the state of the Stadium of Light is an issue that needs to be addressed.

If we’re talking about ‘ambition’, that translates into high standards, and that in turn means paying attention to every single area of the club and ensuring that things are as good as they can be, from ticketing, to the online store, to disabled access and customer services.

Although it’s only twenty six years old, our home stadium is thoroughly run down in areas, tired and faded in others, and generally in need of sprucing up.

In an ideal world, the entire concourse area would be ripped out and rebuilt from the ground up, with a wider range of catering options, cleaner toilets, better lighting, and please God, the removal of the atrocious mural that depicts several Sunderland greats in a way that would shame a Year 8 art student who’d been let loose with a can of spray paint.

Outside of the stadium itself, I’d love to see a proper, dedicated fan zone of some kind, whether that’s a Sunderland themed bar/restaurant or something different. I think such a facility would give the fans a chance to get into an excited match day mood before they’ve even walked through the turnstiles.

Again, this would strengthen the relationship between the club and the supporters. Give them quality, show the fans that they matter and that their loyalty isn’t being taken for granted, and they’ll respond favourably.

It might sound a little bit finicky to be complaining about the condition of the stadium (“It’s good enough and it doesn’t really matter!” some people would doubtless claim), but if we want to continue to progress as a club and show that we’re truly heading down a new path, I think it’s something that should be considered very seriously.

Back in 1998, Bob Murray was hailed for moving us to the Stadium of Light and enabling Peter Reid to build a team that was ‘fit to grace the stadium’, and there’s no doubt that our current owner could do something similar in 2023.

On the pitch, we currently have a team that we can all be proud of, and I think our Wearside home should be brought up to a similar standard by Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and his team. It would bring huge benefits and very little downside.

Tom Albrighton says…

If I could change one thing, it would have to be the badge.

In an age where merchandising and becoming a ‘brand’ is everything, Sunderland seem to be miles behind the curve.

Due to a host of reasons in the last few years, fans have seen the classic ship design as much as they have the club’s current jumbled and overly busy crest. When comparing the two, it’s a no brainer as to which is the cleaner, crisper and more relevant design, and to my mind is more synonymous with the club.

As the club will be looking to clean up its messy commercial operations, a new (preferably old) badge would go a long way into helping ease the difficulties in badge reproduction on both kits and merchandise.

The club seem to have toyed with the idea in recent months anyway, with the retro Avec training gear proving as popular as ever.

It seems simple but it could also be something more meaningful, especially if fan consensus was to return to the old ship crest.


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