Inside the short and long-term strategy to rebuild the Stadium of Light as a Sunderland fortress

Charlie Methven wants Sunderland to break their attendance record for the season against Southend, and has opened up on his long-term plans to improve the Stadium of Light experience.

Friday, 26th October 2018, 1:24 pm
Updated Friday, 26th October 2018, 1:33 pm
Sunderland's home form and attendances are much improved this season

Sunderland's executive director has made re-engaging the club's core and lapsed support a key part of his strategy, but he has lofty ambitions for attracting a new generation in the future.

Attendances at the Stadium of Light have caught the eye this season, the average gate well in excess of many top tier European clubs.

Sunderland's home form and attendances are much improved this season

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Methven, starting from tomorrow, wants even more.

"Our target is 33,000 for the Southend game , of which Southend will bring somewhere around 1,500, so 31,500 will be Sunderland fans," he said.

"That will be a very significant figure for League One, and for Sunderland.

"I'd certainly like us to beat the attendance for the Oxford game, but I think 33,00 is a target that seems realistic.

"It's all part of rebuilding the live attendance - I don't want people to see it as one-offs here and there, it's a gradual thing to get people coming back every week.

"Of course, the impact of a team's performance cannot be gainset," he added.

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"I remember that when we came to the club, we were told that Sunderland supporters expected a team that goes out and grafts, and they hadn't had that for a bit.

"I think Jack Ross has fulfilled that expectation, that demand, by putting together a group that plays as a team, fights for each other, and fights for the fans, and that is what is forming a bond between them and the core fanbase.

"Our average home attendance is exactly 30,000 – for a midweek game we might get 28,000, for the Oxford game on a Saturday it was 32,000, and we have been hovering around those marks all season which is really, really, good considering where the club has been and it's ahead of where our budget was and is.

"But as a marketeer my job is to increase the live audience, to take it forward, rather than to sit back and say 'that's great, isn't it'.

"I'm a great believer that if you think that what you are putting out there is attractive, you then have to go out and find people who are attracted to it, you have to try and persuade them and sell to them to get them to come back.

"There's no silver bullet, it doesn't happen in one go, it's a matter of rebuilding lots and lots of broken relationships.

"Over weeks, months, years, several years, it is about reforming those patterns of attendance that were previously there."

Encouraging the occasional matchday attendee to become a regular is a key target for Methven, with a number of changes to the matchday experience already in place and with more to come in the future.

His ambition is to create a Sunderland 'brand' that fits the core values of the club, appealing to supporters on Wearside and even beyond.

"In the medium term, we want to head back out into areas where historically Sunderland support has been strong but has not been marketed to effectively for a long time.

"That's the next step, going out into County Durham and getting across the idea that Sunderland is Durham's team, as it historically was, and the reasons why you would come to watch Sunderland rather than the competition.

"Then in the longer term it is about the vision for the club as a whole, what kind of person who is not from Sunderland or even from County Durham will then be drawn to the club as a concept.

"Sunderland has a very particular nature as a football club and we need to define that and put a circle around what that is. It's not a question of dressing Sunderland up as something it is not - as the club has tried to do in the past - it's a question of dressing it up as exactly what it is.

"Speaking as a marketing person, the elements of that are that it is inexpensive, it has a great atmosphere, it is real football, it is the most passionate place where you will ever watch football.

"That won't appeal to everyone, but it will appeal to some people.

"I think of it as being an anti-brand - if you are known for being everything that modern football is not, in a weird way that is actually a brand in itself.

"That's where I want to take it in the end, but in the short and medium term there are basic building blocks that we need to put in place," he added.

"We've got a lot of work to do on every aspect of the matchday experience and it is quite gradualistic, it's not an overnight change, but it's things like improving the fan zone, working with the caterers and the pouring suppliers to try and get the beer more competitively priced, and trying to get people to arrive at the stadium earlier.

"We've obviously changed the music and it's always going to be Marmite in terms of whether people like it or not, but it's not a question of liking it - it's a question of tempo, which is something boxing promoters understand.

"You can have beautiful music but if it sends people to sleep or relaxes their minds, it's not the kind of tempo you need to make it into a big match experience.

"You have to strip things down and then rebuild them into a modern, 21st century, sports experience so that the people who come only occasionally decide they want to come more often because it is good fun."