Bleak winter ahead for British sport as fans kept out of stadiums


British sport faces a bleak winter, and for some a fight for survival in the cold months ahead, after the postponement of plans to allow a limited number of fans back into stadiums from October.

By Alan Baldwin

LONDON, Sept 22 (Reuters) - British sport faces a bleak winter, and for some a fight for survival in the cold months ahead, after the postponement of plans to allow a limited number of fans back into stadiums from October.

What had been seen as a glimmer of light at the end of a tunnel now looks like another long stretch of darkness for clubs and sports already in crisis-management after being forced to do without their ticketing income stream.

The government had planned to allow 25-33% capacities from Oct. 1 but Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that was being postponed as part of measures to tackle a second wave of COVID-19.

More than 100 sports bodies -- including from tennis, cricket, rugby and the Premier League -- had called on Monday for emergency funding in the light of the expected development . They warned also of "a lost generation of activity".

The Premier League said its members suffered 700 million pounds ($895.09 million) of losses last season and the national game was losing more than 100 million a month with a 'devastating' impact on clubs and communities.

While the top tier enjoys lucrative television deals, the financial picture for those whose business models rely heavily on gate receipts remains stark, with some warning of collapse without a bailout.

"A lot of clubs were already having financial difficulties before this pandemic started and this may sadly tip some of them over the edge," said Mark Palios, chairman of fourth tier Tranmere Rovers.

English Football League chief executive David Baldwin said last week that EFL Clubs lost 50 million pounds in gate receipts in 2019-20.

"It is estimated a further 200 million pounds will be lost if crowds do not return during the 2020-21 campaign," he said.

"The contribution to football's finances made by match-going supporters... is critical to the viability of League football and all EFL Clubs."


The Rugby Football Union had hoped for a 20,000 crowd at Twickenham for England's game against the Barbarians on Oct. 25 but have suspended ticket sales for what would have been a major revenue stream.

In July, the RFU projected a short-term revenue loss of 107 million pounds due to the closure of Twickenham and proposed making 139 positions within the organisation redundant.

The entire backbone of the sport's funding across the UK is the money made from hosting internationals, with the RFU making around 10 million pounds from each Twickenham full house and its internationals at the venue providing around 85% of its income.

Without those funds it has warned of a devastating knock-on effect on the grass-roots game and now even a smaller figure from a 50% or 25% capacity looks in jeopardy.

Rugby Football League (RFL) chief executive Ralph Rimmer said this month that the potential impact on revenues of not being able to admit fans was up to 2 million pounds a week.

Horse Racing's Jockey Club, which owns the Grand National and the Cheltenham Festival as well as a number of courses, said the main revenue streams for many sports had been cut off.

"With no prospect of a change soon, this threatens the survival of sports organisations and the many livelihoods they support," said chief executive Nevin Truesdale.

He said sport and physical activity sustained 600,000 jobs and contributed more than 16 billion pounds a year to the UK economy.

The prospect of thousands of people travelling to venues, even if well separated inside, jars with a message to avoid social mingling.

The United Kingdom has the biggest official COVID-19 death toll in Europe.

($1 = 0.7807 pounds)

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge)

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