The Premier League is set to start on September 12th with the fans yet to be allowed back in the stands. We take a look at what this could mean for the league financially.
Brighton & Hove Albion recently welcomed nearly 2500 spectators – about 8% of their home stadium’s capacity – as they hosted Chelsea for a friendly match. This was part of the British goverment’s rolling out plans to gradually welcome spectators back into the stadiums. While we may have to wait a considerable number of months before seeing the Anfield Kop awestruck an away team into submission, let’s look at the financial side of what having no fans mean for the Premier League.
When Premier League began back in 1992, matchday income contributed as much as 43% (£89 million) to the overall revenue of the 1992-92 season (£205 million). While the overall revenue for the last COVID-free season (2018-19) boasted a significantly higher number in revenue (£677m approx.), matchday revenue only accounted for 13% of the whole.
The relative decrease in contribution can mainly be attributed to the globalization explosion that has made the Premier League an international entertainment giant it wasn’t back in 1993, thanks to a global viewership and brand deals facilitated by the pull of some of the biggest PL clubs. It might seem that that “big” PL could sustain the current climate without having fans, but it’s not that simple.
Many factors dictate how much match revenue contributes to covering a club’s wage bill, like stadium capacity, ticket prices, and amenities provided. As per the 2018-19 season, even big clubs like Arsenal and Spurs, with over 60,000 stadiums capacity, had 40% of their wage bill covered by the matchday revenue. Only seven PL clubs had their matchday revenue contribute 10% or less to their respective wage bill.
One could also argue that an absence of fans in the stadium would also mean a lack of requirement for matchday staff, reducing the overall wage bill. While technically clue, it doesn’t make up for a strong argument, given the disparity between players’ wage bills and pretty much everyone else employed by a football club. Case in point, Manchester United employed 3,340 as matchday staff for their home games in the 2018-19 season, which amounted to a cumulative £5m wage bill, while the club’s total wage bill was £332m.
Premier League reportedly made a collective loss of £384m in the 2018-19 season, the last one free of any COVID-19 implications. When the 2019-20 season was halted, and no one knew when football would be back, clubs like Burnley had already started airing their concerns of a potential bankruptcy before the year ended. Thankfully, football has returned, but a lot damage has already been done. Arsenal recently declared 55 redundancies despite their players taking a significant pay-cut. While many had speculated this to be coming for a while, the club weren’t shy of mentioning the Pandemic as one of the reasons for the redundancies.
Yes, Premier League is the richest, most lucrative league in the world. But it’s not immune to an unprecedented pandemic. Its riches might grant the clubs more times than the others, but the game will not be able to sustain for long without the ones it was always meant for – fans. For the sake of both quality and finance, we shall hope that the fans can be seen soon back in the stadiums, cheering and jeering. The experiment at Brighton last week was deemed a nice starting point for what will be a very gradual process of bringing fans back. Barring a second wave of coronavirus, we shall have the soul of the game back.