Football fans should not have to pay for lost revenues

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.

@GameofthePeople

Photo: PA

The Grey Neutral: Lockdown, smockdown

WELL, here we go again: doors closed, masks on, baths of sanitiser, panic buying and a boost for the owners of online communication tools. But what of football below “elite” level? Just when they thought it was safe to go back in the water, the #19 shark has risen to the surface and is snapping away at our legs again.

Can non-league football survive this new one month lockdown? Another blow to their income streams, another knock to the confidence of punters that a football ground is a safe place to be. And this time, there can be no “bail-out” campaigns asking fans for donations. 

I now fear for the future of non-league clubs, and the reason I am sceptical about the structure of the game is that this lockdown won’t be the last in my opinion – the government has admitted, one month may not be enough. Short, sharp “circuit breakers” (who comes up with this bullshit?) may be the norm from now on, at least until a vaccine becomes usable/marketable. By the time we are through this, will non-league football be able to stand up on its own two feet? I anticipate that if we shake the tree in a few months, we will have to see who is still around. Meanwhile, the powers that be should work out a plan to downsize the game outside the Football League, do away with overspending and living beyond means, and also rationalise structures and geographic catchment areas. Before it is too late.

Bread and circuses

While little clubs everywhere are probably wondering what the next few weeks will bring, the Premier League will continue. It has to, because the psychological effect of no football cannot be over-estimated – it’s a tonic for the troops, a break in the monotony of lockdown. We’ve become used to synthetic crowd noise (it’s like canned laughter, after all). Without football, the CV-19 crisis would seem like a march across a vast desert. While so many aspects of everyday life have been shattered and most of us have acclimatised to avoiding contact with crowds, football has lifted spirits and given us a glimpse of “normal” life. For most followers of the game, the matchday experience doesn’t exist, the largest slice of the audience watches their team on TV, PC or their phone. At this stage, governments wouldn’t dare to enforce another blanket ban on football – would they?

No sensitivity

OK, Marcus Rashford has embarrassed the UK government and is on his way to becoming the patron saint of school kids, but the Premier League as a whole has shown how insensitive, and out of touch, it really is. Look at the transfer market and the amount of money spent by the Premier’s clubs, there hasn’t been much let off even though some are claiming they are under financial pressure. While clubs outside the top bracket have been counting beans, the Premier has behaved like it is business as usual. Furthermore, “big picture” espionage has demonstrated that even those clubs that claim to being “of the people” operate in a world of self-interest and blackmail. This is by no means only a trait of the Premier League, clubs across Europe who epitomise corporate football are planning similar projects, including a European Super League. Sometimes, it is hard not to believe that clubs and their owners are just completely stupid – how do they think that any divisive plans would be well received? Once again it shows that being wealthy and having size and scale doesn’t make you intelligent.

@GameofthePeople