The consequences of the coronavirus pandemic on English football have been felt far and wide, with one of the most noticeable impacts—evident to anyone watching a Premier League game on television—being the empty stadiums that provide the backdrop to this season’s fixtures.
Atmospheres at English football grounds are one of the most distinct and unique selling points of the top division—the commercial behemoth that it is today—and during Project Restart, it took some time to get used to watching the world’s finest players playing in front of empty stadiums.
Admittedly, viewers have the option to choose artificial stadium noise, but nothing can replace the colour, dynamism and passion evident in Premier League grounds during each and every Premier League gameweek.
One day, fans will return to stadiums—with a return date of May mooted if the United Kingdom’s ambitions to bring down the number of cases and maintain the vaccine roll-out go to plan—but the cost of empty areas has been far-reaching to date.
Last year, fans did begin returning to stadiums—albeit in reduced numbers—in the autumn, but by the time supporters return en masse, it will be over 15 months since grounds were full as normal.
It’s worth noting that clubs lower down English football’s pyramid—those who don’t benefit from lucrative television deals—are more reliant on matchday revenue than those in the top-flight; while the average matchday losses across the English leagues represent 13.3 percent of each club’s income, it’s 21 percent for clubs in the lower leagues.
In total, the 91 professional clubs in England and Wales are missing out on a whopping £677 million of combined matchday income per season.
As well as ticket sales, clubs are also missing out on sales of beverages and refreshments before and during the match, while there are other miscellaneous revenue streams that accompany the matchday experience.
To this end, the Premier League and the EFL reached an agreement over a £250 million bailout package in December to help compensate for losses incurred and financial difficulties resulting from the pandemic.
“All football clubs continue to suffer significant financial losses as a result of the pandemic, but Premier League shareholders today unanimously agreed to provide additional funding and support for EFL clubs in real financial distress,” the Premier League’s chief executive Richard Masters told journalists at the time.
However, Premier League teams have still been affected by the loss of revenue, and the entire cost of going over a year without matchday takings and income from hospitality will be eye-watering.
According to the Independent, Manchester United are hardest hit by the loss of matchday revenue.
They report that, for each home game, the Old Trafford giants can expect an income of around £4.2 million which, when translated over a whole season, comes to just shy of £80 million.
Obviously, this isn’t pure profit, and clubs must take into account that costs that come with accepting a stadium-full of fanatical supporters, but clearly, it’s a staggering amount.
While no other team in the league can boast a stadium as big as the Theatre of Dreams, other clubs are massively affected by the absence of supporters.
Heavyweights Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur are losing close to £3 million of income per match—based on figures for 2018-19—while Chelsea and Manchester City have been without over £2 million of revenue for each home game full house they’ve missed out on during the pandemic.
Newcastle United and West Ham United, each with sizeable home grounds, are also missing out on approximately £1.2 million per home game, working out at approximately £22.8 million across the course of a season.
Despite being in the second-tier for the 2018-19 season, Leeds United recouped over £18 million from matchday revenue during that period; imagine what they could have raked in had they been playing in front of a packed Elland Road every other week in the Premier League.
West Bromwich Albion appear primed to return to the Championship at the first attempt after struggling all season; while they can expect to bring in over £7 million in matchday revenues in the second-tier, they will rue spending their time back in the top-flight playing without fans.
What could the club’s coffers have looked like had The Hawthorns been sold out each week?
Clubs will be desperate for things to return to normal as soon as possible, although realistically, it remains to be seen whether attendances will be back to their previous levels—at least immediately.
Supporters may be concerned about the health risks of being back in English football grounds where—if all restrictions are lifted—there will be no space to socially distance from those around you.
Similarly, with many people facing redundancy or financial hardship in the UK during the course of the pandemic, supporters are less likely to have disposable income to spend on football tickets and the matchday experience.
Following the global financial crisis of the first decade of the century, football attendances fell by approximately 10 percent; will we wee a similar impact this time around, and will clubs be able to cope?