THE Premier League last night warned it cannot afford to continue without fans forever, after the government revised plans to allow more spectators back into stadiums next month.
The warning over the perilous financial situation came from top-flight chief executive Richard Masters after prime minister Boris Johnson revealed plans for the reintroduction of fans at grounds could be halted by a surge in coronavirus cases.
Masters claimed Premier League clubs will lose £700million if the new season is badly disrupted, having seen last term’s disruption cost £500m.
It is understood requests from clubs, including Tottenham and Manchester United, for a limited number of supporters to be allowed into their first home matches will be turned down.
Masters said it was ‘absolutely critical’ for fans to return and that clubs did not lose out on matchday income much longer, and added games behind closed doors ‘can’t go on forever’. He told the BBC: ‘We have to get back to fans inside stadia as quickly as possible — that’s the big thing that’s missing, economic or otherwise — we need fans back inside stadiums for all sorts of reasons and it’s the No.1 priority.’
Masters added: ‘There is a perception the Premier League can perpetually sustain financial difficulties but that isn’t the case and there are implications for clubs — £700m lost to the Premier League economy in 2019-20. That creates significant difficulties.’ Masters said, despite yesterday’s news, he remains hopeful fans can return soon. ‘We were always subject to a government decision — they haven’t made it yet so I can say the Premier League and its clubs stand ready, willing and able to continue with test-event proposals and to open our turnstiles on October 1 if we have permission to do so.’
Sport pilot events in England scheduled for the rest of this month will be capped at 1,000 fans with the government limiting gatherings to no more than six. After yesterday’s horse racing trial with a crowd at Doncaster, it was announced the rest of the St Leger meeting will take place behind closed doors. Other planned pilot events include the Women’s Super League match between West Ham and Arsenal on Saturday.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden said the government were continuing to ‘plan for the best’, saying: ‘We are keeping under review further easements proposed from October 1.’