Premier League chief warns pandemic could cost ‘at least £1 billion’

The coronavirus pandemic could cost the Premier League “at least £1billion”, the competition’s chief executive Richard Masters has warned.

Masters said the cost could be considerably higher than that if the impact of the pandemic extends further into the future.

His comments on the state of top-flight football’s finances were laid out in a letter to Julian Knight, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee.

Knight had called for a windfall tax to be imposed on Premier League clubs if they utilised the Government’s coronavirus job retention scheme to furlough non-playing staff without negotiating a pay cut or deferral for players. Premier League clubs are in talks with players to take up to a 30% cut made up of conditional reductions and deferral of salary.

Masters said: “We face a £1billion loss, at least, if we fail to complete season 2019-20, and further losses going forward if the seriousness of the pandemic deepens and extends into the future.”

Professional football in England is suspended indefinitely, with a return date being kept under constant review.

Masters argued it was the right of Premier League clubs, such as Tottenham, Newcastle and Bournemouth, to utilise furloughing in the circumstances. Liverpool reversed their decision to furlough staff on Monday night after widespread criticism of the move.

Liverpool were heavily criticised for placing staff on furlough and have since reversed the decision.

Masters added: “The furlough scheme announced by Government is meant for the whole economy, including many enterprises which might be regarded as providing entertainment or otherwise dependent on elite talent.

“Not only is our industry facing losses now, but to be realistic, we must also base our plans on full recovery being some distance away.

“Ultimately, the very heavy losses that we face will have to be dealt with or else clubs or other enterprises who depend on football for income will go out of business.”

Knight said the idea that Premier League clubs should need to make use of the Government scheme was “frankly laughable”.

“It is time for the Premier League to stop defending the indefensible,” he said.

“They should be working out a way to carry on paying the wages of club staff without resorting to taking money from the government scheme.”

The DCMS committee announced on Tuesday that a new inquiry would look into the impact of the pandemic on a variety of industries, including sport, with evidence sessions to be held from late April to early May.

Earlier, Football Association chairman Greg Clarke had called for everyone in football to “step up and share the pain” inflicted on the game by the pandemic.

Sunderland today announced its first-team players, contracted academy players and backroom staff have been placed on furlough.

Clarke’s comments come as talks continue between Premier League and English Football League clubs and the players’ union the Professional Footballers’ Association over player wage deferrals and cuts.

The FA announced on Monday that its top earners were taking a 30% pay cut, with other members of senior management taking a 15% cut.

Clarke told the FA Council on Tuesday: “Football faces economic challenges beyond the wildest imagination of those who run it.

“The pandemic will be followed by its economic consequences and all business sectors will suffer.

“We face the danger of losing clubs and leagues as finances collapse. Many communities could lose the clubs at their heart with little chance of resurrection.

“In the face of this unprecedented adversity, all the stakeholders within the game from players, fans, clubs, owners and administrators need to step up and share the pain to keep the game alive.”

The EFL is also negotiating with the PFA for what is understood to be an even higher percentage of deferral, with its clubs hit especially hard by the loss of matchday revenue. The PFA wants each club’s need to make the savings to be assessed on an individual basis.

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