Neutral venues not Premier League’s cup of tea



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Premier League to restart season update May 2020 Image: MJR Group Ltd./Coliseum

The English Premier League has emphasized again that it is committed to restarting its 2019-20 seasons, but will seek to end a proposal for matches to be played at neutral venues. This is because shareholders were told that clubs are set to lose up to an estimated £340m (€388m/$420m) in broadcast revenue, even if the campaign is concluded.

The Premier League, often referred to as the English Premier League or the EPL outside England, is the top level of the English football league system. Contested by 20 clubs, it operates on a system of promotion and relegation with the English Football League (EFL).

The Premier League held a shareholders’ meeting on Monday after the UK Government stated that June 1 would be the earliest professional sport could resume in England, even if it is a closed door event.

With COVID-19 wreaking havoc globally, the top division of English football has been suspended since mid-March. The league is contemplating to restart in neutral venues on June 12, with the competition finishing at the start of August.

However, the neutral venues’ plan has not gone down well with a number of clubs, especially those teams who are at the bottom of the heap have cited their concerns over fairness and sporting integrity. The possibility of using neutral venues was raised at Monday’s meeting, but Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters outlined that the shareholders’ desire was to complete the season playing matches at their originally scheduled venues.

Remarked Masters, “Obviously, it is the preference of all our clubs to play at home if at all possible. It is an ongoing dialogue and we’ve been talking to the authorities about the conditions in which we could get the Premier League back up and running and are taking all that advice on board.”

Masters claimed clubs were not open to the idea of using neutral stadia amid concerns fans would still gather in droves at the homes of their teams – “I think some of our clubs would argue that in relation to policing their own fans that they have a good relationship with them.”

He added, “They can encourage their own fans not to turn up outside their home venues while they’re playing behind closed doors, and they’re in a better position to control that, but it’s not a matter of convincing – this has to be a decision that’s come to mutually.”

Media reports stated that clubs were told they could lose an estimated £340m to domestic and international broadcasters, even if the season resumes, and the figure could be in the range of £300m and £350m because the League would not be able to meet contract terms.

The issues would mainly center on the new timings of the League’s conclusion, plus the difference in product offered to broadcasters, with matches set to take place behind closed doors. The cost of a total cancellation of the season is said to be £762m.

The Premier League recently held talks with its main domestic broadcasters, Sky and BT Sport, to show selected matches free of charge on their YouTube channels should the season resume behind closed doors.

Commented Masters, “Whatever happens, there’s going to be significant loss of revenue for clubs. That is inevitable. We were able to paint a picture today about what would happen in various scenarios, playing out the season and not playing out the season, to allow them to have a picture of that as we stand in the early part of May.”

Masters said that only after taking in the players and managers in the loop would the League move to the next step of clubs returning to training, but with strict social-distancing measures put in place. For that, he added, a company has been appointed to conduct testing at club training grounds.

Masters said there is a “Really strong collective will to complete the season among the 20 clubs. We are working flat out with clubs and stakeholders – Government, our broadcast partners, the Football Association (FA), the English Football League (EFL), Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and the League Managers Association (LMA) – to create a responsible, safe and deliverable model to complete the season.”

“Of course, safety comes first. We must listen to Government, the authorities and the medical experts and continue to follow their advice. That is exactly what we are doing. We are getting ourselves in the best position to resume the season, but only when the conditions are right,” he asserted.

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