Fans will return to stadiums but Premier League warns of ‘financial losses’ for clubs
Even with 4,000 supporters all 20 top-flight teams would lose vast sums of money
The English Premier League has “welcomed” the announcement that fans will be allowed to return to stadiums from 2 December. However, top-flight bosses warn that clubs still face operating at a “financial loss” even with limited numbers in attendance.
Yesterday the government confirmed that elite sport clubs in tier one locations will be able to welcome up to “a maximum of 4,000 fans or 50% of stadium capacity - whatever is lower”. In tier two (high alert) locations the cap is set at 2,000 supporters or 50% of stadium capacity.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions top-flight fixtures have been played behind closed doors since the pandemic struck in March. There had been hopes of clubs allowing fans back in October, but a rise in coronavirus cases saw the plans scrapped.
In response to yesterday’s announcement the Premier League said its priority is to continue working with the government on a “roadmap” so clubs can “quickly scale up to larger capacities”.
A statement said: “Fans have been greatly missed at Premier League matches and therefore we welcome the prime minister’s announcement regarding the return of supporters for the first time since March, albeit at small numbers.
“Our ambition remains to work with government to increase attendance to more substantial levels. Until this can be done, many fans will be unable to attend games and our clubs will continue to operate matches at a financial loss.
“Our priority continues to be the agreement of a roadmap, with DCMS and the Sports Technology and Innovation Group, for pilot events that can help our clubs quickly scale up to larger capacities in line with the Sports Ground Safety Authority’s Covid-secure guidelines and beyond.
“Premier League clubs have a proven track record of achieving high-biosecurity standards and we believe we can play a significant role in the Government’s rapid turnaround testing initiative. We look forward to working with government on their next steps.”
Some clubs may opt against letting fans back in due to money fears, the Daily Mail says. All 20 teams would lose “significant sums even with 4,000 fans back at grounds” as most clubs operate at a “break-even figure of at least 10,000 ticket sales”.
English Football League chairman Rick Parry said the return of fans is “something to celebrate”, but there’s work that needs to be done, BBC Sport reports.
“This is a welcome start,” said Parry. “Fans have been frustrated, they’re missing their football, so it’s something to celebrate for fans, not just for the clubs. We have to build upon it because what we’re really looking forward to is getting fans back in rather more substantial numbers.”
As well as limited numbers of fans returning to live events, the government also confirmed that grassroots sport is “back on in all tiers, including in highest risk areas with some mitigations”. Gyms and leisure centres will also reopen across all tiers.