LONG-DISTANCE relationships are always the hardest to keep, as Wanderers are finding out right now.

No fan has stepped foot inside the University of Bolton Stadium since the end of February, the usually-bustling hotel bar and restaurant sits silent and dark thanks to the local lockdown, and the prospect of things changing significantly for the better before March looks slim.

There is a sad tale to tell for every club in League Two but somehow the size and grandeur of Bolton’s home, coupled with the poor start they have made to the season, makes the environment all the more sombre for those who still report for duty.

Wanderers’ owners, Football Ventures, have reaffirmed their financial backing, chairman Sharon Brittan pledging to “emerge from this time stronger and more unified than ever” in her recent statement to supporters.

Expectations were exceeded on season tickets, with more than 8,000 now sold, which helped create that sense of stability behind the scenes. But ensuring those same people remain engaged could take some invention on the club’s behalf, not to mention an upturn in results.

That task will fall on the broad shoulders of Ian Evatt. Head-hunted from Barrow in the summer, his first month in EFL management has been a tough one but he remains 100 per cent convinced his team will come good.

“I understand that until we get results, it will be difficult to convince everyone of that,” he told The Bolton News. “The most important thing for me is what I see mentally in the dressing room and that positivity that things will change has not altered.”

There is no time like the present on that front, and were Bolton’s winless run to continue this weekend against league newcomers Harrogate Town, the present mood of dissatisfaction among supporters – and significantly season ticket holders – is only likely to rise.

Wanderers face a challenge keeping fans sweet with stadia closed and they are now exploring every possible avenue to try and add some extra value to their product.

The large uptake of iFollow streaming passes for home and away games has helped, and compares favourably with most League One clubs, it is understood.

Colchester United chairman Robbie Cowling revealed a fortnight ago just how profitable away streams could be under the current arrangement for Wanderers, forecasting the club could make around £345,000 if they maintained the same sort of numbers bought for their trip to the U’s.

Results will clearly have a big impact on the rise and fall of demand – but with season ticket holders due some sort of extra incentive after being told they will no longer be allowed into grounds by October, providing free access to away games looks the most likely area of focus.

Wanderers will have to sacrifice a slice of that away revenue by giving season ticket holders streaming access for free and will also have to get the backing of their fellow EFL clubs for the motion to be carried, and constitutional change agreed.

The club is also looking into ways to incentivise the ‘casual’ fan who did not purchase a season ticket into buying streaming passes.

No ideas are currently out of bounds, but the local restrictions placed on the food and drink sector – pubs, hotels and restaurants - are currently limiting what the club can pursue.

Wanderers’ stadium boasts a significant number of hospitality boxes and suites which could open up revenue streams if government policy would allow.

For now, the club is looking at shorter-term rewards for supporters along similar lines to those announced by Colchester yesterday.

The enterprising U’s are looking to boost sales of their streaming passes by offering reward codes which can be redeemed against merchandise, including a one-off home shirt, to be worn in a game this season.

Fans are also being offered the chance to have their name on a ‘wall of honour’ if they continue to purchase the passes.

Wanderers have worked with a fans group to place several flags across the concourse entrances, adding a touch of homeliness to the empty stands in the recent game against Newport.

They have also not ruled out the ‘cardboard cut-out fan’ approach, which was taken by some clubs competing in last season’s play-offs.