These days, it's fair to suggest that on the pitch, Sunderland AFC is a much more cosmopolitan and forward-thinking club than we once were.
With a scouting network that’s enabled us to assemble a diverse and exciting squad, and an ethos that’s placed youth development and forward planning at its core, it stands as a testament to the work that's been done to overhaul the footballing side of the club- and last season’s sixth place finish was just reward.
However, when it comes to areas such as merchandising, ticketing, stadium maintenance, customer service and fan engagement, we still lag behind, and if we’re serious about regaining a place among the elite, it’s something that must be addressed.
This isn’t a Sunderland fan outlet having a dig for the sake of having a dig, trying to puncture the feeling of optimism or an insinuation that our owner doesn’t care.
It’s simply an objective fact that there’s still work to be done in order to fully leave the pared-down, threadbare days of League One behind and continue to move forward into what we all hope will be a successful new era.
Last week, it was announced that our collaboration with ‘Just Sport’ and Nike would continue until 2027.
With it will come a new online shop (hopefully well-stocked, easily accessible and properly maintained from day one), and Just Sport will also be responsible for overseeing operations at the stadium store.
Amid all the inevitable chatter about the quality and design of the shirts themselves and the eternal row about stick-on vs embroidered badges, the wider point is in danger of being lost; that is, are we striving to reach the highest possible standards in every area, and not just hoping that success on the field will magically yield results elsewhere?
Frankly, it feels as though new ideas and a fresh outlook are needed in order for the club to tap into every available revenue stream and ensure that if and when promotion is finally achieved, we’re ready to add real value to the top flight.
As well-meaning as he doubtless is, Steve Davison has never been entirely convincing in his current role, and the litany of errors made on issues such as ticketing and customer service are evidence of this.
It often feels as though he’s slightly too comfortable and unchallenged, which is something we simply can’t afford.
Kyril Louis-Dreyfus may be relatively inexperienced in terms of being the outright custodian of a football club, but if he can truly see the potential of Sunderland (and all the evidence suggests that he can), is it time for him to start making tougher decisions?
It feels as though it’s time to start bringing in personnel of a higher calibre in order to facilitate even greater progression off the pitch.
With season ticket sales for 2023/2024 well into the 30,000s, there’s going to be greater expectations for the coming season, and the loyalty of the fans should be rewarded in kind with the standard of service they receive.
Perhaps we could look to the continent to find people with experience at an equivalent-sized club or business and look to bring them to Wearside.
Many clubs in competitions such as the Bundesliga are known for their creative approach, and we’ve also dipped into the European market for transfers recently, so why shouldn’t we do the same when it comes to non-playing members of club staff?
Fundamentally, this is all tied in with the desire for the club to show ‘ambition’, an umbrella term which certainly encompasses more than how much is spent on transfers and on which players.
From taking pride in your stadium to giving the fans the level of customer service they rightly expect, that’s the true definition of ambition, and all top clubs embody it.
Shortly after arriving at the club in 2006, Roy Keane expressed dismay at our Lonsdale-manufactured shirts, opining that it was a symbol of low standards and that a club such as Sunderland shouldn’t be associated with such a brand.
Fortunately, a switch to Umbro in the summer of 2007 represented the kind of upgrade that the no-nonsense Irishman was probably looking for, but his argument was valid.
The point is that if we’re to start ‘thinking like a big club’ once again, we must be ruthlessly efficient in every area.
During the six years since we last played Premier League football, the goalposts have been moved, the commercial side of the game has been honed, and everything has been kicked up a notch.
When it comes to what’s happening at 3:00pm on Saturdays, the change has been enormously positive and it’s well set to continue.
However, when the time comes to mount a successful assault on promotion, we have to be ready, adaptable, and not simply willing to settle for second best or take the easy option when it comes to dealing with the complexities of running a football club such as Sunderland.