SINCE the pandemic stopped normal life in its tracks, football has been bemoaning the loss of significant sums of matchday income that have pushed some clubs to the brink.
Eventually, fans will be allowed back in the stadiums and clubs will start generating cash from admission prices. Some clubs will have suffered more than others from the complete removal of a vital revenue stream – we may yet see a few go to the wall or at least tip into administration.
How will clubs cope if 2020-21 becomes a complete blank? In 2019-20, it was only a partial lockdown in terms of matchday income, there is a possibility that 2020-21 could see the loss of an entire campaign of home games. Non-league football, for example, is being decimated by a lack of cash coming through the turnstiles and that happens to be the prime source of cash for that level of the game.
The bigger the club, the less reliant they are on gate receipts – that’s the general rule. Clubs like Barcelona (18%), Real Madrid (14%), Bayern Munich (11%) and Manchester United (17%) have diverse revenue streams, but lower down the food chain, a club like Nottingham Forest (30%) or Bristol City (29%) need the money from ticket sales.
Most clubs have been fortunate in that the fans have not stormed the stadiums asking for their money back. In fact, the loyal audience that many clubs cherish have been most charitable, often raising money to keep their club afloat. The debt of gratitude that some clubs owe their fans is quite enormous.
But could those very people be the ones that carry the burden of recouping the monies lost over the past two seasons? The corporate world, in other words the major sponsors, are very unlikely to shoulder the responsibility of ensuring their favourite teams come through unscathed. Club owners are also going to try and limit the longer-term damage by recovering losses over the next few years. The alternative is lower wages and who is going to be first to bite that bullet once the all-clear sounds?
It could be that clubs will have to raise their season ticket prices in order to compensate for the pandemic. They are not alone, other industries started to increase their charges when the initial lockdown in the UK was lifted – you cannot blame small traders and businesses that reply on personal contact such as hairdressers.
It is less palatable when the football industry’s salary structure is so out of touch with reality. Of course, any club chairman or Chief Executive Officer will tell you that unless you pay for performance, you lose players and that’s partially true, but this problem is a universal one – no one country has not be touched by the pandemic. A collective effort led by governing bodies could solve the wage issue.
Will the fans pay higher prices? History tells us they will, because for many years – indeed decades – supporter discontent has never really manifested itself in the form of boycotts. In England, getting a season ticket at a top club is a test of endurance, wallet size and basica good luck. Therefore, nobody is very enthused to show their disapproval by staying away. The fans have been starved of their weekend and midweek rituals and they cannot wait to get back. However, that may have changed with the pandemic. Who will feel relaxed about being in a heaving crowd inside a football ground? It is not inconceivable that fans might have to be coaxed back, at least some of the more vulnerable groups of society.
The fans should not carry the burden because they have kept afloat the one area of income that has been the salvation of some clubs – the commercial department. Making football more expensive will be unfair and a little foolhardy. In reality, we do not know how clubs will react to their falling matchday income, but if they want to see their fanbases as partners and stakeholders, they must do the right thing and put them first in any discussions.