‘We must protect the club’ – Sunderland boss defends club over SAFC flag row and says the Black Cats are good for business

Gary Hutchinson, commercial director at Sunderland AFC.
Gary Hutchinson, commercial director at Sunderland AFC.
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MAXIMISING the value of Sunderland AFC’s brand to sponsors and advertisers means walking a fine line.

After the Echo highlighted the case of The Fort, our website was bombarded with 
comments from angry fans, who claimed the club had taken too hard a stance against the Monkwearmouth pub.

Gary Hutchinson, Commercial Director at Sunderland AFC, being interviewed by Kevin Clark, Sunderland Echo Business Writer.

Gary Hutchinson, Commercial Director at Sunderland AFC, being interviewed by Kevin Clark, Sunderland Echo Business Writer.

SAFC had written to landlord Alan Wallace, threatening “further action” if he did not taken six flags bearing the club crest down from the windows.

The matter has now been resolved, with Mr Wallace – who claimed the club backed down – signing up to its new supporters’ reward scheme.

However, SAFC Commercial Director Gary Hutchinson said the aim had not been not to prevent people from using the club’s name and identity, but to ensure they were not being misused.

“I fully understand the passion in the city,” he said. “As someone who was born in Hylton Red House and has lived in the city all his life.

Sunderland AFC badge, Stadium of Light.

Sunderland AFC badge, Stadium of Light.

“I understand the passion around football, how much the people in the city think of the club and how much the club thinks of its fans.

“We are very proud of our supporters wanting to wear their colours and wanting to support the club and be part of what we are doing.

“But we also need to protect the club.”

For the Black Cats, that means keeping an eye on the way things such as the club badge are used.

“We have to protect the club and its trademarks to ensure we can get maximum value from commercial deals,” said Gary.

“What we want as a football club is to 
maximise our opportunities in order to 
allow us to compete in the Barclays Premier League, to challenge the top clubs while maintaining a realistic pricing structure so our fans can afford to follow the team.

“We want as many people to support the club and get behind the team as possible.”

The role SAFC plays in Wearside’s economy is highlighted in figures which show a single game at the Stadium of Light is worth more than £2million to the city.

It is estimated – “it is a calculation that’s done by the tourism agency, it’s not a figure we’ve plucked out of the air,” said Gary – that every game at the Stadium of Light sees an average spend of almost £60 a head on ticket, travel, refreshments and merchandising.

Based on an average attendance of 40,000 over 19 league games and a minimum of two cup matches, top flight football is worth in 
excess of £45million a year to the Wearside, supporting 1,200 full and part-time jobs directly at the club and many more across the city. But keeping the club in the Premier League is no easy task.

Owner Ellis Short has put his money where his mouth is, with the club splashing out more than £20million during the summer transfer window.

“We had a busy transfer window, with two marquee signings in Adam Johnson and 
Steven Fletcher, as well as bringing in the likes of Carlos Cuellar and Danny Rose,” said Gary.

“Our aim is to be competitive on the pitch, to be in the top ten of the Barclays 
Premier League and eventually to be in Europe and we want our fans to come and support us in that aim.”

Competing in Europe is set to bring with it a whole new raft of challenges. New UEFA regulations – intended to bring an end to the reckless over-spending that has had such a serious effect on clubs such as Portsmouth and Leeds United – mean the days of the billionaire owner pumping untold riches into teams are numbered.

Clubs have to prove they are financially self-supporting and that means making the most of other sources of revenue.

“Any club wanting to compete in Europe in the future will have to comply with the new financial fair play rules, which set a ratio of wages to turnover,” said Gary.

The Sunderland board is realistic enough to know that the club’s fans will struggle to pay the kind of season ticket prices which enable the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea to compete at the highest level.

“We want as many people in the stadium as possible to support the players and create a fortress for visiting teams,” said Gary.

“Our average season ticket price for the 2012/13 season is £462.50. Only four top flight clubs – Wigan, West Brom, Stoke and Norwich – are cheaper than us according to official league statistics.

“Our average price for kids is just £99. Only one club is cheaper.”

“We held prices for season cards at the same level as last year, showing our 
commitment to keeping games affordable.”

That means finding alternative sources of income to fund success on the pitch, from sponsorship deals to hosting events such as the recent summer concerts and the 
University of Sunderland’s graduation