Will clubs survive the pandemic?

Tuesday, 4 August 2020, 8:59
4 mins read

After spending some time yesterday looking at the state of the transfer market post pandemic, today we move onto the overall financial position of football, particularly in the lower leagues which is a level of football that is close to all our hearts.

You would be forgiven, if you switched on Sky Sports, if you hadn’t remembered that there was a life outside of the Premier League and certainly a life outside of the division that we sit in directly below it.  Very little is reported of football life in Leagues One and Two, divisions where the football never re-started (play-offs aside) after lockdown and where the financial impact of closed doors football is felt with potentially more far reaching circumstances.

I am not sure that the media has fully awoken to the crisis that football clubs are in the middle of.  I think actually it would be fair to say that so long as the Premier League and Champions League is playing the biggest part of the media probably doesn’t care.  Harsh?   Very probably but we know the spotlight hasn’t yet been turned on these challenges.

In Leagues One and Two we are talking about clubs who play in front of just a few thousand people.   They have no broadcasting revenue to speak of and they rely on those few thousand people coming through their doors to get through day to day.  They are living just about hand to mouth to survive at the best of times.  We know this as we have been there.  The last 12 years may have seen us enjoying the spoils of the top two divisions but prior to that we had more than 20 years in these divisions fighting for our lives.  Whilst some of Jack to a King may have been – shall we say – exaggerated for effect, many aspects of it should strike a chord.

I am not predicting doom and gloom at the moment but we are also one bad season away from a return to that level.   Sunderland are there, Hull and Stoke almost joined them, Wigan did.  Wolves, Leicester and Southampton have all been there during this time.  Ironically I think the pandemic has actually reduced the chances of us heading there next season but time will tell on that one.

But we are going off on a tangent at the moment.  There are clubs at these levels who will do well to start the coming season, it could be somewhat of a minor miracle if they survive it.  The talk of crowds coming back on October 1st will be a reality that probably will never happen but given the size of crowds at this level the irony is it could be more costly for them to get people back into the ground at 25% capacity than not having them back at all.

If you were a League Two club right now for example then what would your income be?   You have no gate receipts, season ticket sales will be slower than normal (if existent at all), sponsorship money will likely be cut (these clubs rely on local sponsorships in the main possibly from businesses who have their own pandemic related challenges) so you have your retail revenue.  A retail revenue that will be slashed from what you would normally expect at this time of year.  In short, your cashflow is shot.

On the outgoings, you will have reduced outgoings.  But – as with clubs at every level – your biggest outgoing will be on the playing side.  It may be deferred, it may be paused right now, but unless it has been totally reduced then it is an increasing liability, one that you may never catch up on.

It is difficult to see a position where these clubs can survive.  Certainly not in the format that we currently have.  Has this pandemic cause the end of a four division professional game in this country.   Would it make sense now to move to part-time leagues, maybe even with a North/South split to reduce costs for travelling and hotels into the bargain.  This seems a feasible option to at least give these clubs a chance.  Of course it doesn’t take away the financial pressures now but for a Carlisle or a Plymouth it stops the needless costs of a trip to a Plymouth or a Carlisle.

Turning the game part-time at this level has challenges.  The players would still need to earn a living and the average wage of a League Two player is not enough to create a retirement pot to live on when the game becomes too much for the body.  Reducing that will mean players working elsewhere to supplement their football wages and fitting in training regimes around them.  These are not insurmountable problems but they are considerations of any changes that need to be made within the game.

What worries me those is these don’t seem to be issues and problems that are being addressed.  Has football buried it head in the sand and is ignoring these problems completely or have they faced into them and very soon we will hear a wonder plan.  The moment Leagues One and Two clubs voted to end the season early the alarm bells were ringing and forget “operation restart” this should have moved into “operation survive”

It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming weeks and months as clubs face into this and my particular interest will move down the leagues rather than up them to see just what happens because right now I fear that before the 20/21 season has played itself out there will be lots of administrations and the loss of some long term names from the football league.   Unless of course something is done to prevent it.

It’s your move football.

With the world in the middle of a global pandemic and predictions of spikes, second waves aplenty and local lockdowns in place, we are looking at some of the potential impacts on football going forward.  Tomorrow. we will take a look at the Championship before casting our eye towards the end of the week at Swansea City in particular and the challenges that we will be facing ourselves.

You can read our thoughts on the transfer market here and share the views with other fans on our forum here

Images courtesy of Getty Images, Athena Picture Agency and Swansea City Football Club.

Phil Sumbler

Been watching the Swans since the very late 1970s and running the Planet Swans website (in all its current and previous guises since the summer of 2001 As it stood JackArmy.net was right at the forefront of some of the activity against Tony Petty back in 2001, breaking many of the stories of the day as fans stood against the actions where the local media failed. Was involved with the Swans Supporters Trust from 2005, for the large part as Chairman before standing down in the summer of 2020.

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