SUNDERLAND chairman Ellis Short’s purpose at the Stadium of Light yesterday was to launch the biggest shirt sponsorship deal in the club’s history.
But the other message he was keen to drive home was how much the fans still matter to Sunderland’s future and how much of a difference they can make in the season ahead.
The American owner was first enticed into getting involved in Sunderland by the size of the club’s crowds and the passion they showed.
Former chairman Niall Quinn sold Short on the challenge of helping the Black Cats reach their full potential by producing a team capable of filling the Stadium of Light and matching the supporters’ ambitions.
And while the owner hopes he has taken another important step towards that goal with the Invest In Africa sponsorship, he says the supporters remain absolutely crucial to Sunderland’s progress.
He told the Echo: “The most important thing about the fans, in my opinion, is that they are coming to the games, filling the stadium and cheering for the team vocally and passionately.
“I do believe that helps the team do better – against Blackburn, for example, when Martin first started, which we won with the fans’ support.
“Every victory is worth three points and probably a league table position.
“Three extra points last season, for instance, would have been worth four league places, which would have been £3million in revenue and a higher finish than last year.
“So it is important and remains so.
“I want a stadium full of vocal and passionate fans because their support really motivates the team.”
Short and his board’s challenge in that direction is to make the tickets so affordable that the Sunderland public continue to come in their droves.
But the club also has to find ways of raising the funds to be able to match the muscle of rival Premier League sides.
The owner admitted: “There is a tension.
“It is important to me that we fill the stadium, but, of course, we do have to compete financially with other teams.
“It is a balance that we try to walk.”