EFL Clubs to Suffer as Fan Return to Stadiums Put on Hold

The news that the planned return of spectators to sports venues in England from October 1 could be on hold for up to six months is a devastating blow to clubs across the EFL.

Fans were due to return to stadiums on a socially distanced basis from the start of next month, with capacities set to be limited to around 25 percent.

Many EFL clubs rely heavily on matchday revenue and there have been widespread calls for the government to provide funding to make up the deficit.

The EFL has estimated that its clubs will lose a collective £200 million if fans are barred from attending matches throughout the 2020/21 season.

The implications could be catastrophic, with clubs at all levels likely to be affected in some way by the government’s decision.

Blackburn Rovers could be hit particularly hard by this latest development, with the Championship club’s current net liabilities standing at more than £146m.

On the basis that fans were due to be allowed back into stadiums, the club released season ticket details earlier this month and received more than 2,000 applications.

However, that figure represented just a quarter of the number of sales the club would typically generate, creating a massive headache for CEO Steve Waggott.

“Higher up in the pyramid in the Premier League if you’re getting £140m broadcasting money then the percentage of season ticket sales compared to that diminishes drastically,” he told the BBC.

“A Championship club like us it generates between 20 and 25 percent of our total income – it’s a huge amount that we have to try and keep driving through the revenue.

“It’s a forecast and it moves daily. It’s really vital in terms of income that we try and get as many people in on a season ticket.”

With income streams for clubs severely impacted by the ban on spectators, there has already been a knock-on effect in terms of player salaries.

Ahead of the 2020/21 campaign, League One and Two sides voted for the introduction of financial controls in the form of ‘Squad Salary Caps’ in their respective divisions.

The amounts were set at £2.5m in League One and £1.5m in League Two, and there have been calls for the system to be implemented in the Championship.

Bristol City’s CEO, Mark Ashton, told Sky Sports News: “League One and League Two have that (the salary cap) in place. I think there is a real possibility that by the end of this season it will come into the Championship.

“We can talk about money coming into the Championship, but we need to close the door at the other end. We need to control and close salary inflation.

“I believe salary caps would do that and, from a Bristol City perspective, we support that and we would like to see it in place as soon as we can in the Championship.”

While Championship clubs battle to keep their heads above water, the picture is even bleaker in League One and League Two.

For instance, Portsmouth have not reported a financial loss over the past seven years, but the ban on fans is currently costing them around £700,000 per month.

CEO, Mark Catlin, told ESPN that he expects some EFL clubs will be forced to call it day before the end of the year if spectators are not allowed back into stadiums.

“Clubs won’t have cash coming in at that point,” he said. “They will start to look at their debt mountain and have to make decisions about whether they can go again and continue.

“If you have no cash and are just accumulating debt every month, that’s unsustainable for any business.”

Rochdale CEO, David Bottomley, painted an even bleaker picture, saying that most clubs in the bottom division are predicting that they will soon be out of business.

“We are a very well-run club, with a 113-year history of solvency,” said Bottomley. “We are solvent now, we don’t have a bank overdraft, but even as well-run as we are, we won’t be able to get past March without any form of money coming in.

“I spoke to a League Two club last week and they were saying that, following a ring round of clubs in that division, very few believed they would get past the end of November.”