Sports bodies met government ministers at the start of this week at a meeting chaired by the department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to discuss contingency plans in relation to the escalating Covid-19 crisis.
It has raised the prospect of Premier League and EFL clubs enforcing a suspension of spectators attending matches.
The University of Liverpool’s Kieran Maguire says this would have significant ramifications for lower-division clubs such as Bradford City, Rotherham United and Doncaster Rovers, whose revenue streams mean they are reliant on match-day cash much more than Premier League and Championship sides who receive large sums of TV money.
Maguire told The Yorkshire Post: “It would be a disaster for League One and League Two as clubs are already living from hand to mouth and are reliant upon those people who are not season-ticket holders, away fans who turn up or just walk-ups.
“They are also making money from programme and catering sales and so on.
“Cash flow will ultimately cause clubs to survive or fail. If they are not having the money coming in regardless, the only thing that could happen is that the Premier League, Sky or the Football Association – all of whom have big pockets – could say: ‘these are extraordinary circumstances, we are going to give each League One and League Two club £1m to help their running costs. That would be a fantastic gesture.”
With season-ticket proceeds having long since been used up, the prospect of having to pay compensation to fans who are not allowed to attend matches would be another additional financial burden for lower-division clubs struggling to make ends meet.
Dan Plumley, a sports finance expert at Sheffield Hallam University, added: “If games are played behind doors as opposed to postponed, there would have to be some sort of agreement there for fans to be compensated in some way. That is a potential hidden cost.
“It will be a serious concern for League One and League Two clubs.
“In League One and Two, you are probably looking at clubs accounting for two-thirds to three-quarters of revenue from match-day operations. It is the main revenue generator.”
Former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville, joint-owner of League Two outfit Salford City, has spoken of his unease at the potential for games to be played in front of empty stadiums and believes that delaying the season would be a sensible option.
For Maguire, that scenario would create a number of additional problems, with the start of next season likely to be put back.
He continued: “The trouble is that it is a double-edged sword as if you kick those fixtures down the line, people will have already made plans for the summer.
“If the matches take place in June and July, who is going to watch them as it will coincide with Euro 2020 and all those matches will be freely available on TV? If you have a meaningless League One fixture between 14th and 17th, nobody is going to turn up.
“There are further issues. You need things like the fixture computer to get into operation. Are we therefore going to delay the start of the 2020-21 season and also what is going to happen with the transfer window.
“These things have a knock-on effect and the players need a break.
“All players’ contracts end on June 30. In League One and League Two, the vast majority of players are on one and two-year contracts and many become unemployed on that day unless they get offered new contracts.
“They are going to be seeking new clubs and you could have a crazy situation where if it goes onto July, someone playing for a club up to the last match in June could play for the opposition as they have offered a contract two weeks later.
“It could be a catastrophe.”
Meanwhile, Nottingham Forest have confirmed majority owner Evangelos Marinakis has contracted coronavirus.
The Greek businessman also owner of Olympiacos – who are due to play Wolves behind closed doors in the Europa League tomorrow – attended Friday night’s Championship match against Millwall, where he reportedly met with the first-team squad.
He revealed on Instagram on Tuesday morning that he was now following the advice of doctors regarding self-isolation.
Marinakis said: “The recent virus has ‘visited’ me and I felt obliged to let the public know.”
Forest – who are due to visit Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday and welcome Huddersfield Town next Wednesday – have been in talks with the EFL, who last night said there were no immediate plans to postpone any fixtures.