- Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many championships were suspended or rushed to finish the season ahead of schedule.
- The return of football has brought many changes such as significant loss in revenues.
- Despite all the changes and losses, clubs are trying to solve problems through salary negotiations, introducing new systems for visiting stadiums, simplifying transfers, and others.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the global scene, and football is not an exemption. Almost all participating countries were forced to suspend championships while the rest were compelled to complete games ahead of schedule. This happened in the Netherlands, Belgium, Cyprus, Argentina, and France. Although football is slowly returning, it will never be the same until a vaccine is found.
By mid-June 2020, most of the countries’ football championships have already started. With the athletes’ health in mind, authorities of all countries only allow football games if the medical protocol is observed.
Despite being back, football leagues have started to lose a lot of money due to the pandemic. According to an analysis by KPMG, Europe’s five largest leagues will hit €4.1 billion in missed revenues. The continent’s richest football league, the English Premier League (EPL) is hit the worst as its clubs are losing up to €1.2 billion.
The results are based on three main components: stadium visits, broadcasting rights, and a drop in other commercial activities, such as advertisements in the stadium during the match, ads during the half time break, etc.
In addition to the loss of substantial income, the COVID-19 pandemic brought new rules, bans, changes, and unexpected situations in football, each of which is discussed separately in this article.
Matches Without Spectators
The main change in football is the lack of spectators in the stadiums. Representatives of various championships find it difficult to say when the fans can get back to watching. They talked about autumn 2020, then about winter 2020-2021, and now they are talking about the spring of 2021.
An overwhelming majority of football people, including presidents of clubs, representatives of championships, and football federations are inclined to believe that it will be possible to play with crowds of supporters in stadiums until the vaccine against the coronavirus is found.
Lack of spectators led to another significant problem: loss of ticket revenues. CGTN Europe estimated that clubs from the top five leagues could lose up to $718 million on matchdays alone this season as social-distancing measures to limit the virus’s spread force games behind closed doors.
The EPL’s 20 teams are expected to suffer the most, losing an estimated $213.3 million from the 92 remaining games of the 2019/2020 season, after the lockdown. The second biggest league in Europe, Spain’s La Liga, with 110 games played behind closed doors, is now losing $171.2 million.
Germany’s Bundesliga loses up to $160.1 million as there were 83 games played behind closed doors. Interestingly, Italy’s Serie A had six games behind closed doors before lockdown, with 124 to follow after the lockdown. Anyhow, the losses of Serie A’s 20 clubs are lighter, with $110.3 million in total.
France’s League 1 ended the season ahead of schedule, with league leaders Paris Saint-Germain named champions based on the points per game. Without any football game resuming until September at the earliest, by government decree, the League 1 clubs will end up losing $60.6 million.
Even as they are bombarded with challenges, there are some that still try to find solutions to the issues. There are positive moves as some leagues are trying to change the situation by introducing new rules for visiting the stadium. For example, the English premier league plans to implement the system for 2020-2021, where fans with a negative test for COVID-19 will be allowed to enter the stadium.
Although there are cautious talks about allowing spectators to go to the stadium, only on the condition that they sit far from each other, and the stands will be no more than 10% full.
Notably, while traditional sports like football are on the decline, the mobile games market is on the rise.
Many football clubs have suffered from games without spectators, broadcasting rights, and commercials. Due to bad business, numerous top clubs were forced to cut players’ salaries and adjust their budgets for the succeeding seasons as organizers anticipate games to bring in less than what used to be during the pre-crisis period.
For instance, Barcelona FC receives 3.3 million euros from ticket sales for one home match. If the whole next season the club will have to play home games without spectators, the Spanish grand will receive less than 75-80 million euros.
If a grand franchise like Barcelona is facing issues, how about the clubs that weren’t as successful even before coronavirus? Similar problems will arise for almost all clubs in the world. How will teams, and championships in general, cope with this? They do not yet have an answer to this question.
Meanwhile, the supporters, fans, and just football game lovers still have to stay at home. With reduced spending on live sports tickets, it has become obvious that even sports fans became more mindful of spending due to the pandemic.
In all countries, the situation with the spread of coronavirus is very different. Often, even within one specific country in different regions, the situation with Covid-19 is different. Club presidents are facing the question: how to travel safely around the country?
And if in Spain, England, or Italy many clubs have their own planes or the ability to organize a charter flight, the situation in the poorer countries is more complicated.
Transfer Market Change
The presidents of leading championships and many top clubs are constantly mentioning big changes in the transfer market. Perhaps changes will not happen this summer, but in the next transfer window, the market definitely will be different.
Many clubs have already felt the effects of the financial crisis, which hit hard on their capabilities and ambitions. For example, Javier Tebas, president of the Spanish La Liga, wants to impose limits on the number of transfers. According to him, clubs will not only buy and sell players but exchange them. Barcelona can give 3-4 talented young players in exchange for one good level player.
Changes on the Pitch
To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, there were also new rules on the football pitch conducted. It was decided to strongly recommend (and in some countries officially prohibit) the abolition of handshakes, exchange of T-shirts, drinking water from one bottle, and so on.
In Bundesliga, up to three hundred people are allowed to enter the stadium. Two hundred of them are players, coaches, officials, doctors, and broadcasters. Another one hundred people are security personnel who guard the stadium against fans that may try to get inside to watch the match live.
The stadium inside is divided into three zones: the first is able to accommodate the players and club staff, the second for the representatives of the media and security services attendance, and the third – all others who are allowed to enter the stadium. People from different areas should not be in contact with each other.
In South Korea, in addition to the standard requirements and wishes, football players were urged not to communicate with each other during matches. Especially with the players of a different team. In their opinion, this will help minimize the risk of contracting coronavirus on the football field.
As we mentioned before, in the championships of France, Cyprus, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Argentina, the current season was announced ahead of schedule. But this decision caused a lot of problems for everyone: clubs, players, sponsors, representatives of leagues, and even the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).
Criticism poured from all sides and, at times, very harsh. Many clubs were unhappy with where they finished and are confident that they could improve the situation in the standings.
In the Netherlands, representatives of certain clubs are suing the Royal Football Federation: some teams did not make it to the European cups, some teams were not allowed into the country’s top league, and some of them hoped to win the title.
In France, the president of Lyon FC criticized the authorities, believing that his club was deliberately offended. Not only did the ‘lions’ not make it to the European cups for the next season, but they also were unable to get playing practice until August. Thus, it made it harder to play the next game in the Champions League.
And it is worth mentioning separately Argentina, which decided that for two years none of the clubs would be relegated from the top league, but every year two clubs would be promoted. Thanks to such a strange decision, 28 teams will play in the local Super League in the 2021/22 season.
It may seem that everyone should be happy, but it’s not that simple. In Argentina, the financial situation is difficult, and contracts with sponsors are calculated for several years in advance. Specific amounts are written out there. The more clubs in the Super League, the less each of them will receive. As a result, many local clubs did not like these changes.
Football Suspension at Any Moment Again
In many countries where football matches are allowed, local authorities have warned that if something goes wrong, the competition may be suspended or canceled altogether for an indefinite period.
The suspension can happen in two cases: if the footballers do not comply with the medical safety protocol, or if there is a second wave of coronavirus disease in the country, due to which it will be necessary to close the borders of regions and cities again, as well as restrict the movement of people within the country.
Everyone understands that sports is important not only for clubs but also for fans and those who work in sports-related fields. It is a lot of money and many job positions, which is why football made a comeback in stadiums and televisions.
The authorities of those countries, in which they were allowed to resume the season, urged the players not to relax and remember their responsibility. Coronavirus has taken a step back but still prevents society from living normally. The opportunity to restart the football season is a big advance that has yet to be justified.