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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Explained: Why no crowds at stadiums will hit the poorer cousins of EPL clubs the most

Amid rising Covid-19 cases in the UK, football clubs brace for the worst. Why are EFL clubs in a bind following the UK tightening restrictions?

Written by Shashank Nair | New Delhi | Updated: September 24, 2020 5:33:31 pm
EPL, EPL games, EPL matches, EPL Covid-19, Coronavirus news, English Football League, Indian ExpressThe American Express Community Stadium, Brighton, Britain, on September 14, 2020. Last month, 2,500 fans were allowed inside the stadium to view a pre-season friendly between Brighton and Hove Albion and Chelsea. (Pool via Reuters/Richard Heathcote)

The English Football League — comprising the Championship, League One and League Two clubs — had been wary of kick-starting the season without fans because the lack of gate money would hurt the bottom-line. However, the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the United Kingdom means their worst nightmare is about to come true.

Why are EFL clubs in a bind following the UK tightening restrictions?

English Football League (EFL) clubs hoped that fans would be allowed into stadiums from October 1.

But the planned return of spectators to sports venues in England is likely to be on hold for up to six months because of fears of a second wave of Covid-19 infections. Boris Johnson, the prime minister, announced restrictions including large gatherings at sporting events on Tuesday, which means a winter without fans.

Despite rival leagues like the Dutch Eredivisie allowing fans to enter stadiums, the officials from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) made it clear that the situation in the UK looked bleak when it came to allowing fans back into stadiums.

EPL, EPL games, EPL matches, EPL Covid-19, Coronavirus news, English Football League, Indian Express General view of a seat inside the stadium before the match. (Pool via Reuters/Alex Pantling)

Why have the restrictions been brought back in the UK?

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Johnson said that England had reached a ‘perilous turning point’ in the fight against Covid. It was estimated by England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, and Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance that the country would see 50,000 fresh cases a day by next month, which could lead to 200-plus deaths a day, according to a Telegraph report. Whitty also added that with winter around the corner, the cold weather would benefit respiratory viruses. The UK has also upped its alert level to ‘4’, which means that transmissions are ‘high or rising exponentially’.

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What were EFL clubs looking to do before this fresh wave of restrictions were introduced?

Seven clubs were looking to bring in 1,000 supporters to matches across the (EFL) this week as a pilot project. Before this, 2,500 fans were allowed inside the Amex Stadium to view a friendly between Brighton and Hove Albion and Chelsea.

These pilot projects would be followed by the ramping up of fans at stadiums depending upon how the rate of transmission for cases was. But with pubs and bars in Britain open for business, the Premier League in a statement said that fans would be safer in stadiums watching games than any other public activities being currently allowed.

“Fans in stadiums will be as safe or even safer than at any other public activity currently permitted,” the Premier League, consisting of the top-tier clubs, said in a statement. “This is already evident in other European leagues. We are confident that Premier League clubs, using innovative ways to get supporters safely back into grounds, will enable revenues to return to all levels of the game, as well as maintain solidarity arrangements, current tax contributions and financial support for local and national economies.”

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How much money do clubs stand to lose if fans aren’t allowed inside stadiums?

Last season, the EFL lost £50m in gate receipts according to Premier League chief executive Richard Masters, as told to BBC Sport on September 9. Masters in the same report also said that if clubs don’t bring fans back to the stadiums, the EFL in its entirety will lose £700m during the 2020-21 season. This comes after the Premier League revenue was already down £700m in the final quarter of last season.

“It’s not just the loss of matchday revenue,” Masters said to BBC. “Every Premier League match on average generates about £20m for the economy both local and national so we want to play our part in helping the economy to recover as well.”

Now that fans are not going to be allowed, what does this mean for clubs?

While a majority of EPL clubs will survive this period, despite the heavy losses, the true cost of fans not being allowed into stadiums will be faced by lower league clubs. Recently West Ham United co-owner David Sullivan accused lower division clubs of not testing players for financial reasons and potentially exposing Premier League teams when they meet in the Carabao Cup. While Premier League clubs have mandatory Covid testing, EFL clubs do not. A report in the Guardian indicates that the cost of one round of testing is £5000 and that is forcing many lower league clubs to avoid testing, especially at a time when matchday revenues are not coming in.

The British government had provided a grant of £1.57bn to the arts sector in July. But a bailout package may be more in line with the £16m provided to the Rugby League over the summer, according to another report in the Guardian.

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