Can Sport survive the financial burden of Coronavirus?
COVID-19 has had a profound effect on Sport. Print Sport Editor Nick Powell analyses the financial implications of seasons being cut short on the World of Sport.
In late February, as Ireland postponed their Six Nations fixture with Italy, few could have imagined the long list of events that would join it. Prior to that, 42 major sport events had already been halted or altered to cope with the crisis, and with hindsight, it seems incredible the Six Nations was allowed to continue as long as it did.
On the same weekend Ireland were due to play Italy, England played Wales in front of over 80,000 spectators. Six days later, all major sport in the UK had been postponed. Sixteen days later, the UK was forced into a lockdown which is still ongoing.
Not since the Second World War had sport been cancelled on anything like the same scale. Sport seems the ultimate constant, and though it may sound strange it was the complete suspension of all major sport that made me realise just how immense the scale of this problem was going to be.
When Wimbledon was cancelled just under four months before it was scheduled, that sense was heightened further. I had been due to work at the All England Club during the Championships and, naturally, any events work – which I rely on for income during the Summer – has been thin on the ground.
But the issues I will have are not worth discussing in comparison to the disaster that is the financial implications of Coronavirus for the World of Sport. The Rugby Football Union (RFU), are braced for £107 million lossed, the English Football League (EFL) £200 million and the English Cricket Board (ECB) predict £380 million will be lost as their new flagship competition, the Hundred, is postponed to 2021.
It’s a huge hole totalling £700 million for Sport in the UK. This pales in comparison to the US, where sport is facing a $61.6 billion revenue loss. Of course, there are worse things in the World happening than major sports bodies having to make a few years of savings. Even if that doesn’t work, they will be able to adapt. Indeed, such reforms could enhance sports like rugby, badly in need of measures to address the financial inequality of the different nations that play the game.
But for many clubs, amateur and professional, this will trigger serious problems. Clubs in Rugby’s Premiership have been making huge losses consistently for the last five years and Football’s Championship was described as a financial ‘bubble waiting to burst’ in a BBC Sport-published report published as recently as December 2019. Meanwhile whilst amateur rugby and football clubs would have likely received most of their membership fees for the 2019/20 season, cricket clubs are likely to suffer badly, with a chance there won’t be a single ball bowled this summer.
In university sport, worrying months lie ahead for newly elected Club Committees as they wait and see whether or not the season will begin in September. This could have an effect on the membership fees they can demand, which of course brings its own challenges, as well as the disappointing thought of having their playing seasons cut short.
As has been discussed in articles we have released since the begining of the lockdown, Professional and Amateur Sport can be real forces for good. The former’s problems are only likely to be temporary, but for the latter, this could have a devastating effect on its future.
Ultimately, professional sport will survive. Of course, changes will have to be made, some so drastic that certain teams and unions will suffer potentially permanent damage. But the moment they are allowed to, fans will pour back into stadiums and the flow of money into sports clubs will return.
Indeed, though University clubs are not getting much money in, in the event of the BUCS season being affected, little will be going out. But while that could be the same at amateur sports clubs, facilities will still need to be maintained.
The UK has had a long and very successful tradition of organised amateur sport, and an enthusiasm to watch sport professionally. That characteristic is not likely to fade, but it will need to be harnessed to its fullest if sport is to recover to its pre-lockdown glory in this country. Sports clubs, livelihoods, and the future of the UK’s sporting success depend on it.