Dr Rob Wilson: Playing at empty venues would deny clubs ticket money ‘lifeblood’

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Playing matches behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic would deprive lower-league clubs of their “lifeblood” from ticket revenue, according to football finances expert Dr Rob Wilson.

Sporting events continue to feel the impact of the virus, with many already cancelled across the globe.

The Premier League fixture between Manchester City and Arsenal on Wednesday was postponed as a “precautionary measure” after Olympiacos owner Evangelos Marinakis tested positive for Covid-19. Arsenal had hosted the Greek club on February 27.

Despite action from other European nations, as yet, the current domestic football schedule is set to proceed as planned this weekend.

Top-flight clubs may be able to absorb a loss of income from gate receipts if fans were not able to attend but Wilson, who is head of department in the Sheffield Business School at Sheffield Hallam University, feels those further down the football pyramid would be hit much harder.

“Matchday ticket revenue tends to be referred to as the lifeblood of clubs in the lower divisions. It is not like in the Premier League where there is this huge TV deal which props them up if they need it to,” Wilson told the PA news agency.

Playing matches behind closed doors is likely to have a big impact on lower-league clubs
Playing matches behind closed doors is likely to have a big impact on lower-league clubs (Gareth Fuller/PA)

“If we look at the numbers, a Premier League club might lose something in the order of three or four million (pounds) a match. A lower league club might lose a few hundred thousand if a few matches got cancelled.

“Proportionally, though, that few hundred thousand to a lower-league club could well be 20 or 30 per cent of their annual turnover, and that is why it becomes so significant to them.”

Playing matches at empty venues would also see a knock-on effect through football’s supply chain.

Football has a major impact on the local economy
Football has a major impact on the local economy (David Davies/PA)

“There will be people who are not working (at the grounds), there are those who are on zero-hours contracts and some of those smaller businesses potentially cutting staff from their wage bill because of their short-term cash position.

“There is also the additional economic activity you would normally get with a football match – if you are a pub, bar or a restaurant, if it is an out-of-town stadium, those sorts of businesses might only exist because of the seasonality with football.

“So you would then be talking about businesses potentially going out of business as well. The first thought is always what happens to the football club – ‘isn’t it bad that they are behind closed doors?’

“But there is a much broader impact on the local community, from those casual workers to the suppliers of pies and potatoes so they can make chips on match day, to the person who is producing the programme or people who are writing fanzines.”

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