SUNDERLAND chief executive Steve Walton has admitted the club would consider selling sponsorship rights for the Stadium of Light.
The Black Cats have been approached in the past about changing the name of the stadium but have not felt comfortable with the proposals. But Walton, who has had a big influence on the business since taking the job 12 months ago, insisted it is not something they can afford to rule out in the future.
Indeed, given the name of the ground, Walton admitted the prospect of selling naming rights to a power company was an alluring one.
He said: “The naming rights issue is an extremely emotive thing and it would only be done if it was completely right for the business.
“We’d only do it if it worked and didn’t take anything away. There have been a couple of things in that kind of area we have been looking at.
“It doesn’t necessarily carry the same emotion (as other clubs) because it’s a relatively new stadium, it’s only 12 years old. If it was, say, ‘The Stadium of Light, powered by somebody or other’, and the money was right, we might well do something like that.”
With a sponsorship deal with Irish bookmakers Boylesports
due to expire at the end of the season, Walton has also been charged with trying to thrash out the best possible agreement with new sponsors.
The Journal understands this deal could include a stadium naming clause, although nothing has been agreed at this stage.
“I’ve spoken to the chief executive of Boylesports recently, and Boylesports would prefer it if we found somebody else,” explained chairman Niall Quinn.
“Their business has changed and they’re going to go completely online with their advertising and PR. They’re also feeling the pinch like the rest of Ireland.
“They’ve been a real good friend of ours and we have a timeframe where we’ll know by the end of the season exactly where we’re going.”
With a wage bill of almost 80% of their annual turnover and losses of £26m for the last financial year, transfer spending covered by owner Ellis Short, Sunderland are trying to increase their revenue streams wherever they can.
An extra 10,000 people on the gate is the most obvious vehicle available to them, although Quinn has defended the Black Cats fanbase despite them failing to fill the Stadium of Light to its capacity.
That was one of the main selling points when Quinn persuaded Short to take control of the club last year and he is still confident it is an obtainable target.
He explained: “We wouldn’t complain, but we just hope that people see fit to put us higher up their list of priorities.
“The stadium being full every week hasn’t happened yet, but if we had been heading to the League Cup final instead of Aston Villa, when we missed four penalties on the night, you would have seen that bit of success and the extra 10,000 we know are there would come.
“In our last few home games – Fulham brought 192 people. The one before that there was 200 and something against Wigan and 300-odd against Bolton.
“That is 600 away supporters for our last three games. That is where we are feeling it. In the past it would have been 3,000 or 4,000.”
That argument was backed by Walton, who urged people to look at the bigger picture in the Premier League as attendances have dipped across the country.
He said: “You have got to step back. We have got the sixth best gate in the Premier League. There are only the top four and Manchester City ahead of us. We have a better gate than Aston Villa, whose gate actually fell this year slightly.
“And we are the furthest away of anyone. It takes three hours for us to get to the nearest match for us.
“Plus we don’t have the advantage of having any home derbies. So our average gate took a hit because Middlesbrough and Newcastle are not in our division.”