EFL chairman Rick Parry says his organisation is “deeply frustrated” by the decision to delay the return of spectators to sports venues, and has called for clarity on the matter from the Government.
The 72 clubs in the EFL had been hoping to welcome fans back on a socially-distanced basis from the start of next month, but those plans have been scrapped after the Government imposed new restrictions following a rise in coronavirus infections nationwide.
The league has warned its clubs will collectively lose £200million in matchday revenue and other associated benefits if the whole 2020-21 season has to be played behind closed doors.
Talks remain ongoing between the EFL and the Premier League over financial support, and Parry said on Wednesday he remained “optimistic” of finding a solution.
But the news was clearly a huge setback for the competition.
“Over many months we have helped the Government devise, refine and pilot stringent stadium protocols designed to keep supporters safe,” Parry said.
“Staging professional football matches is one of the most heavily regulated areas of crowd management and any supporters attending EFL fixtures, in vastly reduced numbers, would have been required to adhere to social distancing and the rule of six.
“Therefore we are deeply frustrated that we will not be able to continue this work and, in doing so, gather the evidence to show that crowds can return safely to football and become an important financial lifeline for our clubs.
“Therefore, as a matter of urgency, we now need to understand what the Government’s roadmap is for getting supporters back into stadiums as soon as it is deemed safe to do so.”
The EFL had successfully staged seven pilot events – each with 1,000 spectators in attendance – last weekend.
But all future pilots have been cancelled too and Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned the measures introduced on Tuesday could last for six months.
The impact of that would be devastating across all sports, although it is understood the Government believes the Premier League should be the ones to assist the EFL.
Parry added: “With extended measures introduced, it is imperative that the financial issues facing our Clubs are addressed quickly.
“EFL clubs lost £50m last season as a result of playing matches behind closed doors or curtailing the season and stand to lose a further £200m in 2020/21 should we be required to play the whole season without supporters in grounds.
“I am encouraged that the Government has recognised the need for urgent financial assistance for sport and discussions will continue with DCMS and the Premier League.
“We remain optimistic that a solution will be found but we should also be very clear that if it is not, then the outlook for many clubs in the period ahead will be very challenging.”
The Football Association warned of the “huge” impact on the sport at all levels, and said: “We welcome the Government’s commitment to provide financial support to clubs and will continue to work together on a return of crowds as soon as it’s safe to do so.
“We also welcome the continuation of the grassroots game, and the elite game behind closed doors, to help support the physical and mental wellbeing of millions of players across the country, with outdoor exercise more important now than ever.”
Earlier, the Shadow Sports Minister Alison McGovern called on the Government to act fast to prevent sports clubs from going under.
“Labour warned the Government over the summer that many sports clubs were teetering on the edge due to loss of ticket sales,” she said.
“While we support the measures to control the virus and save lives, the Government need to plan to make sure no one loses a much-loved sports club just because of Covid-19.”
Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden met with sports leaders on Tuesday afternoon, and tweeted afterwards to say they would “work together to help (major spectator sports) through this difficult period.”
The picture is bleak within other supporter-driven sports, with English cricket recently revealing it had lost £100million as a result of the pandemic – a sum which could double due to further disruption.
The Rugby Football Union has quoted a similar financial loss from having to play the remainder of this year’s international matches behind closed doors, while clubs are feared to be losing up to £1million per month.
And Rugby Football League chief executive Ralph Rimmer said it was likely that “with losses at up to £2million a week, and continued uncertainty, there will be job losses” across rugby league.