What Impact will Coronavirus have on Football?

Coronavirus shuts down football

Football League clubs are bracing themselves for the impending impact of Coronavirus as games are cancelled across the country.

It has been dubbed the biggest health crisis of a generation, with several countries now on complete lock down, social distancing measures in place, and schools and Universities shut. The Coronavirus has, for the moment at least, completely taken hold and caused massive disruption on a global scale. Naturally, sport has also suffered. To prevent the spread of the virus, several sporting events have been cancelled, and football matches are being played behind closed doors. But what impact could this have on the very existence of clubs, and what would be the best way forward?

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Current status of UK Football

Of course, it must be stressed very clearly that football, indeed any sporting activity, should of course take a back seat when it comes to wider health concerns. However, when society pulls through this, what could potentially happen to the football calendar? Yesterday (March 12th) Boris Johnson stood before the country, flanked by medical and scientific experts and declared that major sporting events will continue to take place, including all football matches. This is very much in contrast to almost every other country, indeed Italy’s Serie A, La Liga in Spain, Ligue 1 in France and America’s MLS have all been suspended. Even sports betting in Italy, and Spain has been suspended whilst the pandemic is happening.

However, just this morning, (March 13th) Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea player Callum Hudson-Odoi have tested positive for Coronavirus. All Chelsea players and staff will now start a period of self-isolation. This has now led to the Football League and Premier League issuing a statement to say no football will take place until at least 3rd April. It appears the news this morning of Arteta and Hudson-Odoi have somewhat forced their hand. The Premier League will survive, but what of those leagues below?

Impact on the Football League

When football is played behind closed doors, of course you lose the atmosphere the game is built on, but it also a surreal experience for the players. This week, after Borussia Dortmund were knocked out of the Champions League in front of an empty stadium, Dortmund striker Erling Haaland said the experience of having no supporters was “s**t”. A sentiment surely echoed by many in the game.

However, what many may not think about is the potential devastating impact playing behind closed doors could have on those who can only dream of playing in the Champions League. Those clubs lower down the football pyramid rely massively on gate receipts to help their finances. Portsmouth chief executive officer Mark Catlin says the impact on clubs in League One and League Two could be “devastating”. Furthermore, proposed insurance policies would come nowhere near covering losses, the EFL (English Football League) has said.

Accrington Stanley owner Andy Holt, whose club are 17th in League One, has a slightly different view from his fellow chairmen, saying “I am really concerned [by the financial impact] but not as concerned as I would be about getting a grip on this coronavirus crisis. I think we need to get on top of it. “It is OK talking about financial ramifications. If I lose half of my fans to this disease, I have long-term financial ramifications that may be far more critical.”

Possible Financial Implications

The football league season has already been affected by clubs struggling financially. League One Bury were expelled from the Football League in August and Bolton Wanderers suffered a points deduction after going into administration in May, while Macclesfield Town and Southend United have been charged for not paying their players this season. Many feel the prospect of clubs missing out on gate receipts will result in more clubs facing administration and possible liquidation.

David Bottomley, the chief executive of League One Rochdale, says playing behind closed doors would be a “huge issue from a financial perspective” and, with six home games remaining, could cost up to £200,000. Mark Palios, Tranmere Rovers owner, says matchday losses at the club would be significant “between £250,000 and £300,000″ for the remainder of the season and “a total loss of £400,000 to £500,000, which would be unbudgeted and unwelcome.”

Of course, it is not just gate receipts clubs would miss out on without the fans. There would be no refreshments purchased, programmes, raffle tickets etc. All of these things make a massive difference to a lower league clubs’ income.

Possible Contingency Plans

As we have alluded to above, there are some clubs who might not survive if supporters are banned from attending. Portsmouth CEO Catlin sheds further light on this “There’s five or six clubs that I know over [League One and Two] who are in trouble already. It could be the difference in tipping them over the edge. “There are clubs struggling and reliant on matchday income to pay wages at the end of the month.”

Of course, we are in completely uncharted territory, and it is impossible to predict anything like this happening. But what can now be done to ensure clubs survive this? One option many feel could and should happen is the EFL asking the Premier League to help out and provide some much-needed funds. Former Football Association chief executive Palios adds “I’m not a great fan of handouts because you have to stand on your own two feet. “Having said that, these are exceptional circumstances so if you are looking at real solidarity in the football world, help from the EFL, the FA and the Premier League is one of the avenues that needs to be explored”. Could Government also help out, Palios thinks this should also be an option, “Government is looking to support economy and business, and football clubs are part of that. There are variety of ways they could all help in that regard.”

Possible Ramifications of suspending the League

With the latest news breaking this morning that all football fixtures are cancelled until April, that raises questions about when will the season finish, how will Euro 2020 be affected? Many believe the Euros will now be cancelled so the season could extend into the summer. However, many also argue the season should be cancelled altogether. That would also cause major issues though. Does that mean teams who are currently in the relegation zone are relegated even though there are several games left? Likewise, with those in promotion places?

These are questions that must be answered by both the Premier League and the EFL. Questions nobody ever envisaged having to answer when back in August everyone was full of optimism as a new season kicked off. These are troubling and tumultuous times. Let’s hope these choppy waters can be navigated and not just football, but society as a whole around the world can come through this.

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