SUNDERLAND chairman Niall Quinn has said he “despises” supporters who watch games beamed illegally to pubs and clubs rather than make the effort to attend matches.
Quinn criticised those who spend enough money when watching on a screen to afford a match ticket – and claims there are thousands of Black Cats fans who are snubbing the Stadium of Light in favour of doing just that.
The former striker defended the current rules which make it illegal to show live matches via foreign channels.
He also revealed how a covert investigation had exposed evidence of the numbers who were viewing Sunderland games on Saturday afternoons without setting foot inside the club’s stadium.
A non-binding legal opinion offered to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) by Advocate General Juliane Kokott suggested EU citizens should not legally be stopped from using foreign equipment and subscriptions to view the matches.
But Quinn has pleaded with his own club’s stay-away fans to watch their team at the Stadium of Light.
He said: “I would never criticise anyone who doesn’t come to the stadium because of financial constraints, but I despise those who spend far more than the price of a ticket watching some overseas commentator describing the action at the nearby Stadium of Light.
“Contrary to the opinion of the Advocate General, the illegal showing of Saturday 3pm fixtures involving Sunderland has an extremely detrimental effect on our attendances at the Stadium of Light.
“I can point to the evidence uncovered by an agency who covertly visited pubs and clubs in our catchment area and witnessed thousands watching the illegal broadcasts.
“My belief is a significant number of these people are taking the easy option of spending their money in the pub watching their team as opposed to supporting their team and helping to create a better atmosphere at the stadium.
“Our attendances are down for a couple of reasons and the economic uncertainty right now is a factor.
“All clubs thrive on full stadiums. Loud, passionate support is the backbone of football and when our stadium is full, we are a force to be reckoned with.”
Quinn suggested supporters who take the TV option are harming the club, after more than 10,000 seats were empty for Tuesday’s visit of champions Chelsea.
“To anyone watching the game illegally in the pub, I will continue to say by doing so, you are not supporting your team, you are actually damaging the progress of the club,” he said. “We have a real chance here to make this club feel great again, but to do it, we need everyone behind us.
“I would urge these people in the pubs and clubs to come back to the Stadium of Light.”
The Advocate-General’s view is not legally-binding, but European union judges follow such advice in 80 per cent of cases.
The Premier League, which could be left unable to maximise the value of its TV rights, said: “The ECJ is there to enforce the law, not change it.”
A Sunderland-based national fans group said the case could be to TV what the ECJ’s Bosman ruling was to transfers.
“If the decision is ratified it could decimate the billions of pounds Premier League clubs receive from domestic TV deals,” said Peter Daykin, of the Football Supporters’ Federation. “It also puts a rather large brick through the 3pm no-broadcasting window.
“There’s no doubt that foreign TV and illegal Internet streaming has already had a profound effect on attendances.
“But, at a time when football has never been richer and football supporters have never paid more to follow their teams, would this decision be bad news for fans? Not necessarily.”