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Reluctant to renew? The thorny issue of Sunderland season cards

As thoughts turn to 2023/2024 and how the club can build on their efforts this season, Phil West looks at whether now is as good as time as any to take the plunge and recommit

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

It’s probably fair to say that the launch of Sunderland’s 2023/2024 season cards could’ve been smoother, more transparent and less misguided when it came to the business of promoting them.

A simple campaign with every base covered and no confusion would’ve been welcome but when it comes to drama, this club is never one to make a molehill when a mountain will suffice.

The proposed move to an all-digital system, confusion over direct debit payments and then a godawful promotional video (swiftly deleted and subsequently mocked by the club itself) weren’t ideal but nevertheless, we’re slowly getting deeper into the renewal window and it’s leading to some interesting debates on social media.

Some fans might’ve opted to commit early on the basis that next season will possibly bring further progress as our squad continues to develop, whereas others may be holding off until ‘statements of intent’ regarding the summer recruitment strategy and our future ambitions are forthcoming from either Kristjaan Speakman or Kyril Louis-Dreyfus.

Sunderland v Coventry City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Ultimately, I think the sales will be strong but it’s sure to be an interesting time as the season heads towards its conclusion. End the campaign on a high and there’ll be more goodwill and the rate of purchases might well increase, and that could certainly be an added incentive for the players.

So, if you’re reading this piece as a current season ticket holder, what will you do?

Are you undecided, have you made up your mind to recommit for 2023/2024, or perhaps you’re thinking of attending matches on a game-by-game basis?

I think there are several trains of thought on this issue, starting with the thorny issue of price increases, which is always something of a balancing act.

It won’t be cheap to watch the Lads in home action when we kick off in August, but that could be counterbalanced by the fact that we’ve often played some of the best football a Sunderland squad has served up in many years, something that could well continue.

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

Attending games is no longer a chore; we’ve been more than competitive in the Championship and the prospect of seeing improved versions of Dan Neil, Trai Hume, Jack Clarke and Abdoullah Ba is exciting.

Another issue that’s dominating the agenda is accessibility, and you’d hope that the move to a digital system doesn’t deter people from renewing. It’s truly sad to think that lifelong supporters would be put off, not by price rises, but by difficulties in actually making use of their ticket.

Yes, the idea of it being saved to your phone is a good one in theory, but what about fans who might not own smartphones and who like the idea of maintaining possession of a physical card?

It’s so important that the club treats everyone - young and old, technologically savvy or not - with respect and doesn’t run the risk of losing them simply for the purpose of ‘moving with the times’. Attracting new supporters is vital, but so is retaining the loyalty of those who’ve backed Sunderland for a long time.

In terms of scepticism about the ownership and our future ambitions, that’s a loaded topic.

Assuming we finish in a solid mid-table position, it won’t be unreasonable to expect us to be firmly involved in the race for the playoffs during 2023/2024.

It’s also worth remembering that this season, our home form has generally been underwhelming, and an improvement is certainly needed.

Granted, there are no guarantees of leaving home games with the elation of victory, as anyone who was there during 2005/2006 could confirm, but an upturn in form on Wearside is a must.

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

2022/2023 has hardly been a ‘free swing’, not least because of the ghosts of past failures, but if there was a period of grace for those in the boardroom and the players on the pitch, that’ll manifest itself as greater pressure next season.

None of the lads have really appeared to struggle with the expectation on our return to the Championship, and how they cope when the demands are greater is sure to be fascinating.

Personally, I feel it’s a really exciting time to attend home matches and that there’s every reason to feel optimistic about the future.

Yes, it’s a very challenging time for everyone right now, but if the club is willing to give the fans something to believe in and continued signs of genuine progression, the fans will reward them with the same kind of loyalty that’s resulted in extremely strong average attendances this season.


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