London (AFP) – Brighton chairman Tony Bloom fears English football will pay a heavy price as a result of the coronavirus-enforced shutdown unless the sport’s key stakeholders unite.
The Premier League and the three divisions below it are all suspended indefinitely as Britain remains on lockdown.
With clubs losing revenue but still having to pay their players’ wages, there is growing concern that some will go bust before football finally returns.
Premier League club Brighton are bankrolled by the wealthy Bloom, but with 2018-19 figures showing £21 million in losses and 71 percent of their annual turnover spent on player salaries, they may not be immune to the crisis.
Bloom admits there are questions over the sustainability of such a model.
“After this situation is resolved — and hopefully that doesn’t take too long — I do think football will come together because right now lots of clubs are at risk of going bust,” Bloom said during a conference call on Thursday.
“We were all devastated when Bury went (expelled from the Football League) because we know how key clubs are to their communities and it’s a big concern going forward that more clubs in this country and in others will fold.
“It does need to be looked at all levels. It really isn’t sustainable and it needs something like this crisis to get across some significant change.”
Football has come under fire from politicians and fans over players’ slow progress in agreeing to take pay cuts to ease the financial burden.
Talks involving the Premier League, the Football League, the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and players have so far produced little but several clubs have opted to reverse their highly unpopular decisions to furlough non-playing staff.
– ‘Wider picture’ –
The PFA’s combative stance has infuriated some and Bloom says they should look beyond protecting player wages in the short term because clubs could go out of business, leaving fewer employers.
“I think it’s time for the PFA to step up and look at the wider picture,” he said.
“There are players with contracts running out soon but also younger players who don’t have contracts right now, and players lower down the leagues. A lot of those clubs literally won’t have money to pay wages in a month or two.
“The last thing we need is for so many clubs to go into administration and maybe not get out of it. There is a wider picture here and the PFA has a wider responsibility.”
Premier League clubs are due to meet on Friday to discuss the next steps, with reports emerging that a growing number are calling for the season to be ended no later than June 30.
Declaring the season over would suit Brighton, who are sitting two points above the Premier League relegation zone with nine games left.
“We would like to finish the season,” he said. “There does come a point when we can’t keep waiting but I don’t think June 30 is that point,” Bloom said.
“There’s talk about player contracts and sponsorship and it’s difficult to play beyond that but this situation is so unique and unprecedented every option should be looked at.”
Brighton’s chief executive Paul Barber warned games may need to be played behind closed doors for an extended period when football is able to resume.
“If we have to play behind closed doors we have to accept we won’t have the same product but equally we have got to accept it might go on for some time,” Barber said.
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