Not so fast! Premier League clubs may REJECT chance to bring back fans due to fears they’d lose money hosting small crowds – while they also have concerns over lack of a roadmap towards stadiums returning to full capacity
Premier League clubs could reject the chance to welcome fans back into their grounds next week due to concerns over cost and the absence of a roadmap towards full capacity crowds.
Sportsmail has been told that while their operating costs vary, all 20 top-flight clubs would lose significant sums if they admitted even the maximum number of 4,000 fans that the Government announced on Monday — a limit that is unlikely to be permitted in large areas of the country.
The Premier League defied the Government in September by cancelling planned test events due to unhappiness at a Downing Street-imposed capacity cap of 1,000, which they deemed uneconomic, and some of their clubs could do so again.
Fans have not been inside Premier League stadiums since March amid the coronavirus crisis
It is understood that most of the 20 clubs operate at a break-even figure of at least 10,000 ticket sales. That number is likely to be higher over the next few months, given the additional safety costs of ensuring a Covid-secure environment at grounds.
Manchester United released a statement on Monday night welcoming the Government’s announcement and emphasising the club ‘are ready to welcome fans back to Old Trafford as soon as it is safe to do so’. But the Premier League were candid in spelling out their concerns.
A statement read: ‘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 in 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 loss.’
Fans will be raring to get back inside stadiums after watching on from home recently
In addition to the considerable cost, there are also concerns about the absence of detail from Government over how clubs could eventually move to bigger capacities.
This issue has been encapsulated by the apparent lack of involvement from the Sports Technology Industry Group — an independent team of health and technology experts who have been working on high-tech solutions to facilitate a return to full stadiums.
The Premier League statement added: ‘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.’
The clubs will wait until the Government publish details of the revamped regional tier system — which will determine how many fans can attend events in different areas of the country — before confirming individual positions.
Boris Johnson confirmed fans can return to stadiums once lockdown is lifted on December 2
In consultation with local safety advisory groups, the clubs have been working towards occupancy rates of between 25 and 33 per cent when fans are permitted to return. The Premier League insist social distancing can be maintained at those levels.
But the Government’s attendance figure on Monday was far more modest, with a maximum of 4,000 fans to be allowed at outdoor events in the lowest-risk areas from December 2, 2,000 in Tier 2 and none in Tier 3.
The RFU are yet to decide whether they will seek to admit fans to the final of the Autumn Nations Cup at Twickenham on December 5, with a maximum of 2,000 likely to be permitted as London will almost certainly be in Tier 2 or Tier 3.
Premier League chief Richard Masters will have welcomed the Government’s decision
RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney has said crowds of 25,000 are needed at the 80,000-capacity stadium to make it viable, although in the Premiership that figure is understood to be around 4,000.
The EFL are more enthusiastic about the announcement, which will provide a potential lifetime to several clubs in League One and League Two.
While the issue of sporting integrity has been raised due to fans being allowed to attend games only in certain areas of the country, there is no serious opposition to turnstiles being re-opened next week where it is permitted.
‘The EFL welcome the decision to allow the return of supporters when the national lockdown ends next week,’ said an EFL spokesperson. ‘We now look forward to the re-opening of some EFL club stadiums as we finally welcome back fans.’