DAVID Bruce says significant investment into the Stadium of Light this summer will help to "bring back the heart and soul" and add "personality" to Sunderland's home on a matchday.

While there remains uncertainty on the football side, with a new head coach not yet in place, the Black Cats are cracking on with plans to improve the matchday experience for supporters at the Stadium of Light.

Already this summer, Sunderland have unveiled plans to revamp the club's retail, servicing and ticketing operations, with work underway at the stadium.

And Bruce, the club's new chief business officer, says that's just one element of the club's drive to spruce up their ground and "inspire" matchgoing supporters.

"We've got to make that stadium a must have rather than a nice to have," said Bruce, a Wearsider who joined Sunderland on the back of spending more than decade in the United States working for the MLS.

"We've got to put the fan at the heart of everything we do and create experiences and engagement opportunities.

"We're trying to do that in the summer with the investment that's going into the stadium, the owner is putting more money into it than has been at any stage over the last 20 years.

"It's not insignificant, the new PA system, the new pitch, floodlights, safe standing and 5G capabilities. There's ways we can really drive the experience of it and that in turn will bring more out of the fans.

"There's a plan that started last year, we updated the hospitality areas which really needed that and we've got two brilliant facilities now with Quinn's Bar and Montgomery's Bar.

"There's ongoing maintenance and updates going on through the season which we probably need to get a bit tighter around. As I mentioned, there's a lot of investment going in this summer.

"One of the things that we've talked about internally and started to tease out there is, 'how do we inject the stadium and its surroundings with more personality?' We want to make it feel like Sunderland because I think that's one thing that's missing.

"We want to bring that heart and soul back and find a way to express that, because it's what makes the club special. There's so much we can do there, clearly that's partly investment but there's a lot of other things we can do there to help inspire the next generation of fans through the experience we create."


Bruce's vision isn't limited to just the stadium but also the city centre surroundings, with the potential for the new footbridge linking the former Vaux site and Sheepfolds to become "Sunderland's Wembley Way".

He says: "From the streets around etc, you wouldn't know there's a stadium there so there's a lot to be done, and there's a lot of conversations to be had with the city stakeholders around that. We have to be always thinking about the next generation, we've got an interesting rival up the road doing interesting things and that actually excites me, because there's an opportunity there to do something very different and own something rooted in tradition and authenticity and community.

"There's a huge opportunity for us with the next generation not just in Sunderland but in the surrounding areas. We've got to work with the city stakeholders on that, there's the Esports Arena coming online but we've got a lot to do to make that fan experience better and more appealing.

"It's really important that we develop that relationship with our fans. What happens on the pitch is obviously really important but we want the club to rise with the way the city is rising. We're seeing really focused investment on things that are going to move the city forward.

"If you think about the development of the city, there are so many opportunities to create new traditions and rituals. The new bridge that's being built, that could be our new Wembley Way - that's just one little example.

"This is what I mean when I talk about the fan journey, creating new and different ways to celebrate and be connected to the football club. That's really exciting for me."

Bruce isn't just focused on improving the matchday experience for current supporters, he wants Sunderland to do all they can to appeal to new fans.

He said: "We talk a lot about the fan journey because the support is never switched off. The matchday experience is a massive part of that and one of the amazing things is all the rituals that people have.

"But a lot of people won't have those yet, because they're new to the club - so how do you start to think about building those? And we want to think about that because we want to attract new people and different people to the stadium."