Sunderland’s Byrne determined to take club up to the next level

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SUNDERLAND chief executive Margaret Byrne insists the Black Cats’ participation in the Barclays Asia Trophy marks a new era for the club’s profile.

Paolo Di Canio’s side make their first public appearance of pre-season tomorrow (kick-off 11am GMT) when they tackle Tottenham Hotspur, at the Hong Kong Stadium, after playing two behind-closed-doors friendlies at their 10-day Italian training camp.

It is the second successive season where Sunderland will prepare for the Premier League campaign in the Far East after last summer’s trip to South Korea.

But this year’s tour involves far greater exposure alongside top flight heavyweights Manchester City and Spurs, in the only Premier League-affiliated competition outside England.

Sunderland’s squad were forced to slalom through a pack of autograph hunters and local camera crews when they arrived at Hong Kong International Airport on Sunday and have a packed daily schedule of media, promotional and community appearances during the week.

And Byrne says that in an era where the Premier League has developed a worldwide audience, it is vital that Sunderland attract attention beyond the boundaries of Wearside.

“It’s massive for the club. It’s the most prestigious thing we’ve ever been invited to,” she told the Echo.

“To be part of it is great. From the club’s perspective, it’s about making us bigger.

“We’re not just part of the North East of England; we’re part of this global product watched by four billion people.

“It’s an opportunity for us to introduce our football club to a city that will only have heard of the top four before.

“The fact it’s sponsored by Barclays and the Premier League says it all.

“It’s massive for our profile and commercial operations.”

While marketing and commercial factors clearly played a part in Sunderland’s decision to become the 15th Premier League team to take participate in the tournament’s history, Byrne (pictured, right) insists the Black Cats have been mindful of reaping footballing benefits from the 12,000 mile round trip.

Sunderland have been training at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground and were due to participate in an open training session at the Hong Kong Stadium today, ahead of tomorrow’s game.

“Football has to come first, regardless of anything else,” added Byrne.

“The club secretary was out there in February looking at the training facilities.

“If the facilities weren’t right, we wouldn’t be going.

“You have to make sure everything is in place, it is like a military operation.”