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Shirts, Shirts, Shirts: The state of the commercial side at Sunderland AFC

Like many other Sunderland fans this summer, Mike Stubbs and his family have had a hard time trying to give the club their hard-earned pennies in exchange for merchandise. Should it be this difficult?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

In recent years, it has become commonplace for social media to be filled with the gripes of a certain section of SAFC’s fanbase.

Some of it has been justified - after languishing far too long in League One, the patience of any supporter would have been tested. The list of not-very-good players we signed (fill in the blanks) or the players we managed to turn into bad players (Jason Steele - see ‘Brighton’) is painful to reflect on.

But, in 2023, we now have some players in the squad who are attracting interest from other teams for actual transfer fees, and Sunderland is seen as a club where talented young players can thrive.

Of course, there are still issues - the striker situation has yet to be resolved, and there is a debate about whether we should stick or twist with players like Danny Batth, Alex Pritchard and Lynden Gooch. But it is a world away from sitting waiting anxiously to see if Will Grigg would sign, the second coming of Danny Graham or one last dance with Jermain Defoe.

On the field, we have players who now have a decent amount of experience at Championship level or above - even if you exclude the aforementioned Batth, Pritchard and Gooch, whose futures are uncertain, we have Patrick Roberts, Jack Clarke, Bradley Dack, Dan Ballard, Dan Neil, Anthony Patterson and Luke O’Nien all with at least one full Championship season under their belts, playing alongside promising young talents.

Trai Hume, Dennis Cirkin, Pierre Ekwah, Jobe Bellingham, Chris Rigg, Abdoullah Ba and Hemir are all young players who should excite any fan with their potential.

Coventry City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

But it all goes a bit downhill when the commercial aspect of the club is considered. After the dismally low initial offering, the away shirts came back into stock almost two weeks ago. Early reactions to the design had been mixed but the throwback to the earlier 3rd kit has clearly been well received, judging by the number of fans now wearing them.

Ordering three online was a relatively straightforward process - but the personalisation option to pick from the squad list was missing. It wasn’t too difficult to overcome - just making sure that you had the spelling and numbers correct.

A couple of days after, our shirts bearing the names of Rigg, Hume and Ekwah arrived, and we were ready for the trip to Coventry.

The home kits came back into stock a day after the away kits. This time there was no option at all to personalise. As we waited for the option to appear, the stock quickly disappeared. It was another week before more stock arrived and the website finally offered the option to personalise them. Miraculously the squad list on the drop down menu was actually populated - you could simply click on the player’s name you wanted on the back of your shirt!

As I write this (29th August), there is still no squad list to pick from if you want to buy a personalised male or female adult away shirt. My Leeds-born wife is very taken with the away shirt but the only size available isn’t one that would fit her. If they do come back into stock, that will take our spending on replica kits as a family to just shy of £500 - but it has not been easy.

Preston North End v Sunderland: Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

This is not something that should be an issue for a club of the stature of Sunderland. Some of our rivals - either in locality or league position - had their replica kits on sale weeks before we had managed to launch our designs.

We have some of the most loyal fans in English football, our home crowds are comfortably the largest in the Championship, and we eclipse many attendances in the Premiership. It is time that the club undid the damage caused by ‘Del & Rodney’ and put the offering in the club shop and on line back on a par, at least, with our competitors.

I live in Yorkshire, and visited Leeds recently. The Leeds Utd retail unit in the Trinity Centre in the city centre is a huge 10,000 square foot two-storey affair. If Sunderland, with such a massive following, cannot even come close to matching that, there is something very wrong with our business model.

The improvements on the field have been impressive, now we need to see the off-field operation step up - it is a win-win situation for the club and for supporters.


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