The Premier League clubs are “ready, willing and able” to get fans back as soon as the government give the go-ahead, according to chief executive Richard Masters. The top division was dealt a blow on Wednesday as Boris Johnson announced that a spike in Covid-19 cases had caused a “review” of the return of crowds from 1 October, putting the sophisticated plans of Premier League clubs on hold.
Tottenham Hotspur, for example, had been hoping to get some ticket holders in this weekend. Masters nevertheless revealed that the work done so far means clubs will be able to get fans in as soon as they are given the go-ahead.
“All I can say is that we are ready, willing and able to do that,” Masters stated in a media briefing to mark the start of the 2020-21 season. “We have got an ambitious test programme and we will roll that out as soon as they give us permission and as soon as government gives us permission to open turnstiles, we will do exactly that.
“We are to some extent in the hands of government at the moment. We are talking to them every day, we have a good relationship with them and we know that we always said at the beginning that September was going to be a difficult month because we are seeing a lot of things happening in this country in terms of the return of schools, the return of universities, return to work and we just have to acknowledge that.”
With clubs set to lose more money as a consequence of empty stands, Masters said part of the motivation was the effect on the surrounding communities.
“Another figure would be, not just in terms of revenue but contributions to the economy on our calculation and average match contributes £20m to the national and local economy. We want to play our part in bringing local economies and the national economy back and keeping the Premier League model working. Clubs want to be competitive and bring in the best players to put on the stage. That is the whole purpose of a professional football competition.
“The longer that fans are outside the stadium in numbers the more significant the financial impact on clubs. There is perhaps a perception that the Premier League can perpetually stage financial difficulties and that isn’t the case.
“There are implications for clubs. Our clubs lost £700million in 2019-20 and that creates significant difficulties.
“We have three priorities for this season. Number one is to complete it with the challenges ahead and to get 380 matches away. Second is to get fans back into full stadiums. And third to get the football economy back to full health.
“So those three priorities are interlinked of getting fans back to all stadiums to return the football economy so we can do all the things we want to do and continue the good work we do. That is the key priority.”
Such difficulties have put further focus on the recent cancellation of the £564m contract with China’s PPTV.
“Obviously securitising revenue is part and parcel of all the processes that we run when we are marketing our rights,” Masters said. “The decision to terminate our agreement with Suning was a very difficult one and they had been a very good partner to us.
“We had some difficulties that we couldn’t resolve and we had to make the decision to move on. We know there are millions of fans in China who want to watch the Premier League so we are taking steps to resolve that situation. We need to make the right decision rather than the quickest decision, so we are getting on to that.
“Clearly it creates some financial issues but we are confident that we made the right commercial decision and the right strategic decision for the Premier League.”
Masters also revealed that a meeting last week saw the 20 clubs update contingency plans for the curtailment of the season – which would now only be “an option of last resort”.
“We had a very good discussion last week amongst clubs looking at this. When we faced the issues in March and April when the league was initially suspended, we all know that the rule book did not adequately deal with the situation so you want to add more certainty. What the clubs did agree with was a set of principles which would make curtailment an option of last resort – I think that’s important. Finishing the season is the number-one priority. The formula we came up with for playing matches behind closed doors was pretty successful and is now enshrined as one of the things you would have to go through before you reached curtailment. But the issue of a cut-off point or a number of matches to be played for a season to be valid was not agreed.”
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