The Coronavirus is causing fatalities and fear worldwide, but if the latest plans to curb the spread of the virus are followed, it could lead to the death of some EFL clubs too.
That’s the opinion of football finance expert Kieran Maguire, who has told Sky Sports that some clubs could suffer extreme financial hardship as a symptom of games being forced to be played behind closed doors.
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport officials and sports stakeholders have met to discuss the possibility of the UK’s sporting fixtures being played behind closed doors, or perhaps even postponed permanently. The EFL have also attended the meeting, the outcome of which we will hear soon.
Whilst any action would have little impact on the bigger clubs, who don’t rely on income from a matchday, clubs within our remit in the Real EFL would be severely impacted.
“Clubs in the Premier League have as little as 4 per cent coming from matchday ticket sales but further down League One and League Two it’s about a third,” Maguire told Sky Sports News.
“To pay their weekly bills they are reliant on walk-up fans not just in terms of tickets but the likes of catering sales, hospitality and programme sales.”
The most at-risk clubs will be those in League One and League Two, who rely heavily on matchday income to cover the cost of their squads.
“If that income source dried up I would have genuine fears about a number of clubs who are already living hand to mouth,” added Maguire. “If the government set a limit of a 5,000 or 10,000 gathering then the majority of those would be able to have their matches going forward and of course, we could see the larger institutions such as the Premier League and FA lend a helping hand.”
Accrington chairman Andy Holt is also worried about the impact any action could have on EFL clubs, but he told BBC Radio 4 that his concern was primarily with the health of supporters.
“I’d be considering pausing the season until we get a grip of it,” he said. “We had 3000 fans at our place at the weekend. I’m worried inviting them all together is putting them in danger. We have a lot of elderly fans.”
The move comes after the French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu announced that all sporting events in the country must now take either place behind closed doors or with an audience of no more than 1000 people, up to April 15th when it will presumably be reviewed.
Italy has already seen a number of matches played behind closed doors, with further restrictions expected as the virus grips the country. The EFL took some action this weekend, with pre-match handshakes not taking place.
This could have huge implications for clubs in the EFL. Accrington, Rochdale, Southend, Macclesfield and a host of other clubs rely heavily on income from fixtures and to lose that income would be catastrophic. Postponing the end of the season is one option, but with the Euros coming up in the summer it doesn’t leave much scope unless there’s an overlap. However, what would then be done for clubs who have players on international duty with the likes of Northern Ireland or Wales?
Consider the likes of Burton, Southend and Wimbledon who have yet to host Sunderland, a sell-out away crowd. Also, how would clubs look to compensate supporters who have bought season tickets? Many fans would likely see that as a minor issue and require no money back, but others may well press the club for a refund, meaning guaranteed income that has already been spent would have to be returned.
On the flip side, Italy has seen a sharp rise in cases of the virus and when people’s lives are at risk, action does have to be taken. Simply saying ‘stop the elderly’ as they’re a risk group is not enough; what if a young person catches it at a game and takes it home to their parents?
These are indeed worrying times for the country as well as for EFL clubs.