English lower leagues face £200m loss from empty stadiums

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Soccer fan wearing a mask during coronavirus pandemic (AFP)
Soccer fan wearing a mask during coronavirus pandemic (AFP)

The English Football League (EFL) and Football Association (FA) warned on Wednesday that the delay in bringing back crowds for up to six months will have a devastating impact on the game's finances.

A plan to bring fans back into English sports venues on a socially distanced basis from 1 October has been scrapped because of fears over rising infection numbers.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the measures announced on Tuesday could stay in place for six months.

It is a devastating blow to sporting organisations, many of whom rely heavily on match-day revenue for survival, and there have been calls from governing bodies for emergency funding.

"EFL Clubs lost £50m ($63.7) last season as a result of playing matches behind closed doors or curtailing the season and stand to lose a further £200m in 2020/21 should we be required to play the whole season without supporters in grounds," said EFL chairman Rick Parry.

"As a matter of urgency we now need to understand what the government's roadmap is for getting supporters back into stadiums as soon as it is deemed safe to do so."

The FA said financial help from government was vital to help clubs survive.

"We understand the government's decision, as the health of the nation is the priority," the FA said in a statement. "However, it is important to recognise that the impact on football will be huge.

"Clubs up and down the country are really struggling, and many will have been looking forward to crowds coming back in order to provide much-needed income during these difficult times. Many, at all levels of the game, are battling to survive."

Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden met with representatives from a wide range of sports on Tuesday to hold further talks on the financial impact of the restrictions.

Johnson said on Wednesday that the department was "in active consultations with clubs across the country to see what we can do to help".

"It grieves me to see football clubs... not able to go back in the way they want to right now," he told MPs. "And I have total sympathy with... the fans. I really wish we did not have to do this."

However, Parry criticised the government's U-turn after seven pilot events with 1 000 fans in the stadium were held in the EFL last weekend and the stringent measures that have been put in place to ensure spectators can be socially distanced.

"Following the successful return of supporters to seven fixtures on Saturday, the EFL is disappointed at yesterday's decision to suspend plans for the return of fans to matches," added Parry.

"We are deeply frustrated that we will not be able to continue this work and, in doing so, gather the evidence to show that crowds can return safely to football and become an important financial lifeline for our clubs."

There is growing frustration among clubs and supporters across the UK that outdoor sporting venues remain closed, while indoor hospitality and leisure facilities such as bars, restaurants, cinemas and gyms have reopened.

The Premier League warned of the "devastating impact" the continued absence of supporters was having on its clubs and communities.

"Last season, Premier League clubs suffered £700 million in losses and at present, our national game is losing more than £100 million per month," it said in a statement.

The Rugby Football Union and Jockey Club also called for government aid while cricket chiefs warned the continuing absence of fans would have a "severe" impact.

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