Premier League facing the £1.137 billion pandemic question
The Premier League calendar has taken on another meaning.
The English top flight’s 20 clubs and its stakeholders convene by videoconference on Friday to discuss ‘Project Restart’, the plan to bring football back.
A separate significant meeting is taking place between the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Public Health England and representatives of major sports to talk about the resumption of football, cricket, rugby and horse racing.
The Premier League must determine if it is viable, right and safe to play, but also how and when, with June 8 and 13 touted as possible dates.
It has become accepted that sport can only be played behind closed doors at the moment but there are questions if all 20 Premier League grounds can be suitably sanitised to be deemed safe and if not, whether neutral venues such as Wembley or St George’s Park, are used.
It could bring complaints about the loss of home advantage. Aston Villa were due to have six home games remaining while some clubs, including Manchester City, Brighton, Tottenham and Watford, have made their facilities available to the National Health Service, in the meantime.
The Premier League will have to consider what emergency services want, with the police suggesting neutral venues. One concern, if clubs used their own grounds, would be that fans could congregate outside them, creating a health risk near the stadium, even if it is safe within it.
Football was halted when Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta tested positive for the Covid-19 virus and clubs are likely to seek reassurances over the safety of players and staff.
The British government’s continued glaring failure to get the number of tests required raises questions if there will be enough and if footballers are getting them, it is at the expense of key workers.
However, they could have official support. Unlike in France, where the government has announced that no large sporting events will be allowed before September, even behind closed doors, Boris Johnson’s administration has come out in favour of sport returning.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said on Monday he had been in talks to get Premier League football back “as soon as possible”.
The underlying economic issues remain the same. The Premier League unveiled a bleak financial outlook if the season is not finished, with a potential cost of £1.137 billion (Dh5.2bn) , including refunds of £750 million to broadcasters.
Completing the campaign behind closed doors would still cost a minimum of £200 million, but would limit losses.
If the fixture list is not finished, there is no remotely satisfactory way to resolve issues like promotion, relegation and Champions and Europa League qualification.
Meanwhile, Uefa has ruled that seasons must be finished by July 31 in order for the 2020-21 campaign to begin.
Clubs will have other logistical complications. Many players have returned to their home countries and could be quarantined for 14 days when they come back to the United Kingdom.
Tottenham’s Heung-Min Son, Chelsea’s Willian and Manchester City’s Fernandinho and Bernardo Silva are among those currently abroad, with the South Korean doing military service.
So far, some Arsenal, Brighton, Tottenham and West Ham players are training individually at their grounds but social distancing guidelines would need to be relaxed for full contact training to resume.
The game could be temporarily different. Rules might be changed. Fifa have suggested permitting five substitutes per team and giving a mandatory yellow card for spitting on the ground.
Precedents from abroad are likely to be on the agenda. The French, Dutch, Belgian and Scottish seasons will not resume this season. In Italy, FA president Gabriele Gravina wants Serie A to return but sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora cast doubt on that.
Uefa’s medical chief Tim Meyer said it is “definitely possible” to restart the 2019-20 season and the German Bundesliga had been planning to resume on May 9 with a maximum of 332 people at a game, amid warnings a third of clubs could face bankruptcy if the season is not completed.
But that date could be pushed back with the possibility that more lockdown measures will be imposed in Germany after a fresh spike in coronavirus cases.
That would put the spotlight back on the Premier League, and Project Restart could fade into the background.
Getting the Premier League restarted, hopefully from June 8th, is proving no easy task. The plan is to use eight to ten neutral venues, e.g., Brighton's Amex stadium which is not in an urban area. About 300 people would need to be present at any one game.
Clubs are worried about losing home advantage. Although this seems to have declined somewhat, the available evidence suggests that the main factor is unconscious bias by referees, and that in turn depends on the home crowd being present. Clubs are always concerned about losing the revenue from digital advertising boards around the pitches in televised matches.
Some leading players have also expressed concern about the safety implications for them and their families.
However, the commercial imperative to get games started again is strong and it is all related to broadcasting revenue. According to KPMG, the loss in match day revenue will be around €170m - €180m. The commercial hit will be €250m- €270m, but the bulk of the €1.15bn to €1.2bn will be from broadcasting at €700m - €800m.
Sky and BT are losing tens of millions of pounds a month from customers pausing subscriptions. The idea that the games could be broadcast free to view on BBC and Amazon has not gone down well with Sky and BT.
La Liga takes the biggest hit after the Premier League at just under €1 billion. The Bundesliga comes next at just under £0.8bn. The French league has been stopped by the Government until September, costing Ligue 1 clubs €300m - €400m. footballeconomy
Premier League clubs and their squads will hold crunch meetings this week, with players holding the key to the top-flight’s plans for a return to action next month.
The 20 clubs will meet again on Friday or Monday — depending on the Government’s planned review of the lockdown measures — for a pivotal vote on whether to complete the season at eight to 10 neutral venues.
Before then, clubs will gauge the views of their players over a return to action, while the Premier League are set to lobby the players’ union, the PFA.
Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Brighton’s Glenn Murray were among those to express concerns about aspects of ‘Project Restart’ before last Friday’s meeting of clubs, and the PFA are planning to advise all members against playing if they feel unsafe.
On Friday, the League, FA and clubs agreed that bringing players on board is crucial to hopes of resuming training by May 18 and fixtures on June 12.
The 20 club captains, who organised the #PlayersTogether initiative to donate money to the NHS last month via WhatsApp, will be particularly influential in talks.
Tottenham captain Hugo Lloris became the highest profile player to speak out in favour of completing the season in much-changed conditions.
“We are in a situation where everyone wants to finish,” the France skipper told L’Equipe. “It would be terrible if everything ended like that, nine games before the end of the Premier League. It would also be cruel for Liverpool, with the lead they have. There would be a taste of unfinished business.
“Nobody wants it to end like this. Everyone has to find the right compromise between health above all else and the need to finish this season.” In a significant stumbling block, the bottom six clubs — Brighton, Bournemouth, West Ham, Norwich, Watford and Aston Villa — are currently opposed to squandering home advantage by using neutral venues unless the threat of relegation is taken off the table.
The Premier League have advised clubs it is the only way to complete the campaign, with no chance they will be given Government approval to use all 20 stadiums. Any rule change will need approval from 14 clubs.