Dubai: Premier League clubs are beginning to weigh up the potential finiancial cost as the prospect of failing to complete the 2019-20 season looms worringly large.
Football Association chairman Greg Clarke has already said he does not believe the current domestic football season in England will be completed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Premier League suspended all fixtures at an emergency meeting on Friday. Matches in the English Football League, FA Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship are also on hold until at least April 4 - and it is increasingly unlikely that play will resume by then.
Clarke said at the meeting that he did not think it was feasible for the season to be completed as the virus is not expected to peak in Britain for many weeks. The decision was taken after Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive for COVID-19.
Liverpool are 25 points clear at the top of the Premier League with nine games remaining, chasing their first English top-flight title for 30 years. If results had gone their way at the weekend, they could have wrapped up the title at Everton on Monday but manager Jurgen Klopp said he supported the move to suspend football.
He said in a club statement: “If it’s a choice between football and the good of the wider society, it’s no contest. Really, it isn’t.”
West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady said if the Premier League fixtures could not be completed, the only fair solution would be to declare the season “null and void”.
Brady, whose club are just two places above the relegation zone, said: “Who knows who would have gone down or come up if the games have not actually been played in full?”
Football clubs at all levels face enormous losses if the season is not finished.
One senior figure in broadcasting told The Times: “The commercial reality for the Premier League and Uefa is that if they don’t complete their seasons then they are in breach of their broadcasting contracts.
“You would have broadcasters from all around the world saying, ‘In that case we are not paying for the season.’ For the Premier League, you are talking around 3 billion pounds income a year from overseas and domestic TV rights. There would also be financial implications if the competitions were squeezed so fewer matches were played.”
If it’s a choice between football and the good of the wider society, it’s no contest. Really, it isn’t.
Football finance expert Kieran Maguire told the BBC that clubs, especially in the lower divisions, would be hit hard by the disruption.
“Many clubs are surviving on a match-to-match basis and are reliant on the loyal few thousand turning up,” he said.
“We have to consider the staff at clubs, they are reliant on the income they get from football clubs to pay their own bills as well.”
The Premier League clubs are reportedly due to meet again on Thursday. “Two thirds of the clubs in the EFL are losing money, and therefore are reliant on owner contributions on a regular basis,” Maguire added. “My concern now is the owners might be reluctant to pay the money across.
“Also many of the owners are local businessmen who are running their own companies and themselves will be suffering financial distress as a result of COVID-19. They might be struggling to pay their regular staff because they have lost orders or not been able to fulfil contracts.
“Historically, those owners have been subsidising the football club out of the proceeds of their own business. If their own business starts to struggle, which is what happened at Bury last year, then you can easily see that situation being repeated on a more regular basis, given that the clubs are living from hand to mouth and relying on these owner handouts.”
Maguire also suggested that billionaire clubs in the Premier League could help out those in the leagues below.
“In the most recent Premier League accounts, they had over £1.5 billion cash sitting on the balance sheet,” he said. “I appreciate that money is allocated to be distributed to the members, but if the Premier League says, ‘Well as an act of good faith towards the football community, we are going to give £250,000 to each club in League One and League Two,’ it would cost them £12 million. Now that would not buy them a reserve full-back, but it would buy time – and that is the most important thing.”