The new head coach at Sunderland Football Club may have raised a few eyebrows with his controversial political views, but his presence is unlikely to have a detrimental effect on the city’s tourism.
The majority of the Sunderland fans ‘forgave’ Paolo Di Canio for his political views as soon as the final whistle blew in the 3-0 defeat over arch rivals Newcastle, and attendance figures are unlikely to suffer due to the man at the helm.
As with North East neighbours Newcastle and Middlesbrough, football is something of a religion in Sunderland, with results to a large extent determining the mood of the town for the coming week. This in turn affects the economy, with attendances of away fans also boosting the city’s fortunes.
A study by Marketing Manchester found that Manchester United and City combined generated a phenomenal £330m a year for Greater Manchester’s economy due to supporters spending money on food, accommodation and sightseeing/tourism, not to mention shopping when they visit a town for a match.
And while Sunderland is not on the scale of Manchester, the football stadium is the epicentre of the town – all roads lead, almost literally, to the Stadium of Light.
And it’s not just the football fans affected by the fortunes of the club – The Stadium of Light has established itself as one of the hottest music venues in the country with artists such as Take That, Bruce Springsteen and Rihanna all choosing to include it in their tours.
This year’s North East Live will follow Bon Jovi and Rihanna and the line-up reads like a who’s who of pop with JLS, The Wanted, Rita Ora, Little Mix, Lawson, Conor Maynard, Stooshe, Union J, Amelia Lily, James Arthur, The Vamps confirmed.
And this is big business for the city, with a capacity of 49,000 (seated) and tickets starting at £25 each North East Live is set to be the biggest concert in the North East.
Officially honoured at the Enjoy England Awards for Excellence as the North of England’s finest commercial tourism venue, the Stadium of Light is also a thriving hub for business, conference and hospitality events.
The club also has ‘The Foundation of Light’ an organisation established in 2001 by former club Chairman Sir Bob Murray CBE which uses the influence of the club and the power of football to make a positive impact on the community. Running a broad range of award-winning programmes, the Foundation includes more than 100 professional teachers, health workers, football coaches, family learning officers, youth workers and support staff and reaches Sunderland, South Tyneside and County Durham. SAFC is woven into the fabric of the town through education systems, community organisations and business.
And the club is now being used to promote the city of Sunderland worldwide, with a new partnership with Invest in Africa extending to football, business and the community aspects of the club – while drawing attention to accusations of racism towards Di Canio.
Di Canio and Sunderland have handled this PR nightmare with aplomb and found the best way to silence many of the critics by beating Newcastle.
It may be that employing Di Canio, however unpalatable his political beliefs, and dealing with the press that goes with him is a ‘necessary evil’ both for the club and Sunderland itself.
The Sunderland fans think they’ve found their man, and as long as he continues to produce results on the pitch the town will prosper.