English Premiership clubs seek state help to bail them out

Premiership clubs seek state help to bail them out as coronavirus casts dark financial shadow over rugby

  • English Premiership clubs are asking for help to protect them from financial ruin  
  • Clubs have taken the option of furloughing players – having already cut wages 
  • Sale Sharks, Wasps and Gloucester have all opted to furlough their playing staff 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

English Premiership clubs are queuing up to seek financial help from the Government as the coronavirus pandemic continues to cast long shadows over rugby.

As the sport scrambles to save itself from financial ruin, top-flight clubs are now taking the option of furloughing players, having already cut wages across the board.

Sportsmail understands Sale Sharks, Wasps and Gloucester are the first Premiership teams to opt for the measure which could save them £100,000 a month each.

Sale Sharks are the latest English Premiership club to have opted to furlough their players

Newcastle Falcons, the top side in the now-cancelled Championship, were the first major rugby club to furlough their staff and players. With no income and no prospect of matches until the summer, Premiership clubs are following suit to try to cut costs and claw back money.

Players and staff will be paid 75 per cent of their full wages, as indicated last week, but via the furlough scheme clubs will be able to claim back £2,500 per month per individual from the state.

Being furloughed, though, means players cannot work — a grey area for professionals who are trying to keep fit.

Newcastle Falcons were the first major rugby club to furlough their staff and players

This furlough move is supposed to be until the end of May but can be extended.

Meanwhile, the 25 per cent pay cuts players took are now starting to hit their bank accounts.

As Sportsmail reported 10 days ago, a large number of Premiership players are reserving their position for a possible challenge down the line.

It is understood league organisers PRL are not enforcing blanket financial measures, letting each club make their own decision.

The top 12 clubs lost around £50million collectively before private-equity firm CVC boosted coffers in 2018.

But across the world rugby is edging towards a monetary meltdown. Australian Rugby stood down 75 per cent of their staff, worried they face losses of £60m (AU$120m) and USA Rugby filed for bankruptcy.

Closer to home, Wales boss Wayne Pivac followed England head coach Eddie Jones by taking a 25 per cent pay cut — alongside WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips and other top brass — as the Welsh union furloughed many of their other staff.

England boss Jones and senior RFU executives took ‘in excess of’ a 25 per cent pay cut last week but Scotland coach Gregor Townsend, as well as Glasgow’s Dave Rennie and Edinburgh’s Richard Cockerill, have only deferred 25 per cent of their pay until September while SRU CEO Mark Dodson, on a basic salary of around £450,000 a year, is only deferring 30 per cent.





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Premier League clubs revise plans to rip up pitches this summer

Premier League clubs revise plans to rip up pitches this summer as uncertainty over football’s future grows due to the coronavirus crisis

  • A number of Premier League clubs have revised plans to rip up their pitches
  • Clubs are concerned regarding the uncertainty over the gap between seasons
  • The situation has raised worries over how the pitches will hold up next season 
  • The coronavirus pandemic has truly decimated the football calendar 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Premier League clubs are reconsidering plans to replace their pitches this summer, which could result in poor surfaces next season. 

A number of sides have taken the decision not to replace their turf amid the chaos triggered by coronavirus. 

It is usually common for top clubs to spend vast sums at the end of each campaign on replacing their pitches.

Premier League clubs are revising plans to rip up their pitches this summer due to coronavirus

The process takes 50 to 60 days to complete and is carried out in time for the August kick-off of the following season.

But sources at various clubs have disclosed that they have already shelved such plans due to uncertainty over how much of a gap will exist between the end of this season, if it is restarted, and the new campaign. 

The situation has raised concerns over how pitches will hold up next season, especially if there is a harsh winter. 

A source at one leading club said: ‘It’s a difficult situation. The feeling is that everything should be fine. It is not necessary to change pitches every year but a lot of clubs do.’

Clubs are concerned about the gap between the end of next season and the new campaign





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NRL clubs look to English Premier League for post-coronavirus shake-up

NRL clubs are agitating for a major overhaul of the way rugby league in Australia is structured when the game emerges from the coronavirus crisis, using the English Premier League as a template for a new landscape in which they would have much more power.

The clubs will be briefed on Monday morning by the NRL following a meeting of the ARL Commission, with pay cuts for players and executives expected to be rubber-stamped as the code attempts to survive the COVID-19 lockdown in the absence of broadcast income from Nine Entertainment and Foxtel, whose next instalments are due on Wednesday.

Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero is one of the biggest stars of the Premier League.Credit:AP

The document, obtained by the Herald, spells out how much greater weight clubs have in the game there than over affairs in the NRL here, with the Premier League "reporting to 20 member clubs”, who are each equal shareholders, and 14 out of the 20 required to vote on a particular issue to affect change.

It describes the role of the Premier League management as "to manage and govern the league, monetise the rights globally for clubs, distribute the money equitably amongst clubs to reinvest in talent, stadium and local communities, provide responsible support to lower league clubs and wider football and community development.”

According to the document that has been passed around by NRL clubs, 83 per cent of all revenue that flows into the Premier League is passed on to its clubs.

The NRL’s 2019 annual report says 43 per cent of all revenue was distributed to the 16 clubs – a pool of $228.1 million from total revenue of $528.5m.

The NRL has wider responsibilities than simply the country’s elite competition, pumping $48m into the states and $40m to development and employs about 400 staff.

However, there is a belief among some clubs that the NRL should be a significantly leaner operation.

According to the Premier League document they are using as a model, only a penny out of every pound that flows into the game there is spent on operating costs and the Premier League head office has only 140 staff.

While uncertainty has gripped the NRL and its clubs over the past fortnight, particularly since the competition was shut down on Monday, there was some good news on Friday when Telstra confirmed it would not pull back from its major sponsorship and from its role as the code's digital broadcast partner while there were no games.

"Telstra is a very strong supporter of Australian sport and we remain committed to all of our partnerships across NRL, AFL, netball and FFA, and will continue with our support regardless of season interruptions," a Telstra spokesman said.

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AFL clubs hope to have membership options within a fortnight

AFL clubs hope to be able to give their members a range of options to consider in the next fortnight as they scramble to make suitable arrangements for supporters in an interrupted season.

Club CEOs including Carlton's Cain Liddle and Richmond's Brendon Gale have been working together to create a uniform position across the 18 clubs with the clubs agreeing early in the piece that it would be not help anyone if wealthier clubs used their financial position to make offers to members that other clubs couldn't match.

The working group is understood to be considering offering members options such as credits on future memberships, converting memberships into tax deductible donations, as well as offering refunds where needed although nothing has been finalised as yet.

With the game suspended until at least May 31 (although few expect it to return that early) and a new fixture to be developed if the season does get underway, significant uncertainty remains as to what lies ahead with AFL CEO Gill McLachlan saying he is prepared for the season to extend until the end of the year to ensure the remaining 144 games plus finals are played.

Geelong CEO Brian Cook told a KRock podcast that the Cats had been overwhelmed with support from members as the industry dealt with the myriad of decisions required after the game was cancelled due to government restrictions in place to control the spread of the coronavirus.

"We’ve been working towards a common strategy for all clubs, and it will involve, eventually, several options for their members to consider," Cook said.

AFL clubs hope to have an update on memberships within a fortnight. Credit:Getty Images

Cook expected club members would have about five options to consider once clubs and the AFL had approved the approach with the veteran CEO also anticipating it would need the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's tick of approval.

"I’m expecting [in] about a week or so, we’ll be able to go out to members and say, 'Look, here is our offer'," Cook said.

The AFL said at their season launch that one in 24 Australians are members of clubs. The range of membership options provided by clubs are enormous, ranging from three-game memberships to digital memberships, season ticket holders, reserve seats, season ticket holders and corporate packages or social club memberships.

Membership has been one of the game's biggest growth areas with club bosses describing members as the "lifeblood" of clubs before the coronavirus crisis.

Club officials have been heartened by the response of members with more people happy to leave their money with the club at this stage than wanting refunds. All clubs have had people buy memberships since the season cancelled too.

However they are also conscious there are many people, like clubs, who have suddenly been hit with significant financial troubles as jobs disappear so they are attempting to work out a suitable solution.

It's unclear at this stage what approach will be taken with AFL members.

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Radical plan hatched by clubs to save Premier League season

Premier League clubs have devised a radical plan to save the 2019/20 season amid the coronavirus outbreak – and propose to play every remaining fixture behind closed doors.

Euro 2020 was pushed back a year on Tuesday by Uefa in a desperate bid to allow nations to complete their domestic leagues but Premier League chiefs are fearful they will be unable to fulfil their fixtures.

A masterplan has, therefore, been developed to play the 92 remaining matches behind closed doors, with every game taking place at neutral venues at a separate time and all live on television, according to The Sun.

The proposal would see two or three grounds host the games, with some stadiums potentially holding more than one game a day and teams playing every three days in a race to finish the season.

Read the latest updates: Coronavirus news live

It’s likely the grounds chosen will be in the Midlands and the rationale behind the limited number of stadiums used is that it would keep numbers of medical and security staff to a minimum.

Premier League bosses are aware of the need to complete the season to keep Sky and other TV companies happy, with the broadcast deals funding a large proportion of the competition.

Four teams – Manchester City, Arsenal, Sheffield United and relegation-threatened Aston Villa – have 10 games remaining, while the rest of the teams have nine fixtures to complete.

Uefa chief Aleksander Ceferin outlined his plans for nations to complete their fixtures, denying the European governing body would push for the season to end immediately.

‘We all know  this terrible virus that is all across Europe has made football and all life in Europe quite impossible,’ said Ceferin. ‘We knew we had to stop the competitions.

‘I’ve also heard  again fake news Uefa will advise leagues to finish the championships now and decide that the winners are the ones who are number one.

‘I can say that it’s not true. Our goal is to finish the leagues.’

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Championship clubs will do whatever it takes to complete the season

Championship clubs will do whatever it takes to complete the rest of the season with teams prepared to play games in empty stadiums as EFL prepare plans amid coronavirus crisis

  • Championship clubs are determined to resume games and complete the season  
  • Teams held initials talks over the phone to discuss the possible options available 
  • Many are willing to play games in empty stadiums in order to finish the campaign
  • The EFL will hold a board meeting on Wednesday to discuss the plans they have
  • Coronavirus symptoms : what are they and should you see a doctor?
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Championship clubs are determined to resume playing and finish the season no matter what – even if it means completing the remaining fixtures behind closed doors.

The EFL will hold a board meeting on Wednesday to discuss their plans for the rest of the campaign after football was suspended until April 3 at the earliest due to coronavirus.

Clubs held initial talks over the phone yesterday to go through their options ahead of the pivotal meeting and the majority want the remaining games played whatever it takes.

Leeds United were top of the Championship when all football was suspended last week

The EFL will hold a board meeting  to discuss plans that will affect West Brom who are second

With ongoing concerns about mass gatherings, Championship club chiefs are willing to play games in empty stadiums in order to get the season finished.

In the event of that, one option discussed to appease season ticket holders would be to grant them access to the iFollow official streaming service for Football League clubs so they can watch games they would otherwise have attended in person.

As part of that plan, non-season ticket holders would then be able to buy access to individual games, allowing them to watch their sides but also creating a revenue stream – albeit a smaller one than if fans were allowed to attend – for their clubs.

All Championship clubs are determined to do whatever it takes to play the rest of the games

Play-off contenders Fulham and Brentford could be affected if the season was not completed




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Football League clubs could go to the wall over impending tax bills

Football League clubs could go to the wall over impending tax bills as EFL board prepares to discuss coronavirus crisis that leaves teams on the brink

  • The coronavirus has cancelled the EFL calendar, leaving a number of clubs without precious matchday revenue 
  • Now teams in the Football League could face winding up orders over tax bills 
  • Some clubs in the lower division are struggling to pay with money due Thursday 
  • EFL outfits may seek to apply for the £330bn emergency loans that were announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak on Tuesday
  • The EFL have limited powers to help the clubs with financial reserves of £40m 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Football League clubs face the prospect of imminent winding-up orders from HMRC with several in the lower divisions struggling to pay tax bills that are due on Thursday.

A number of clubs are understood to be urgently seeking clarification as to whether they can apply for some of the £330billion of emergency loans announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak on Tuesday, while others are pushing the EFL Board to lobby the government to grant a temporary ‘payment holiday’ from tax bills.

The EFL Board will meet on Wednesday to formulate their response to the coronavirus crisis that has left clubs facing the prospect of going out of business due to a suspension of matches that could last throughout the summer. 

Some EFL clubs are struggling to pay tax bills that are due on Thursday amid the coronavirus

The EFL’s ability to help out, however, is limited; while they have financial reserves of around £40million, paid in advance as part of their £119m-a-year deal with Sky Sports, it is not their money to hand out, as there are concerns the broadcaster could demand a rebate if postponed matches are not rescheduled promptly.

The clubs’ tax bills are due this week and there are concerns that without government intervention some will be unable to pay. Southend United and Macclesfield Town both failed to pay players on time twice this season, and a number of other clubs also operate hand-to-mouth.

The EFL have limited power to help the teams in trouble as their resources only stretch so far

The EFL Board face a huge challenge in keeping the 72 clubs together throughout the crisis as they are a disparate group with very different needs.

The Championship clubs held talks via conference call on Tuesday and reached an agreement that their priority is to complete the season as soon as possible even if it means playing games behind closed doors.

Many in League One and League Two would oppose this as staging matches without spectators would be financially ruinous.




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Football League clubs fear owners may walk away if season is void

Football League clubs fear their owners may walk away if season is declared null and void

  • A number of Football League clubs fear that their owners could walk away
  • The situation could occur if the current season is declared null and void 
  • The EFL will meet this week to discuss their plans for the rest of the campaign 
  • Some clubs are more reliant on the financial input of their owners to stay afloat
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

A number of Football League clubs fear their owners may walk away if the current season is declared null and void.

The EFL will meet this week to discuss their plans for the remainder of the campaign after the Coronavirus pandemic led to last week’s temporary suspension of football in England’s top four divisions.

Much will hinge on the outcome of Tuesday’s UEFA emergency videoconference, with a suspension of Euro 2020 until next summer a move that would give domestic leagues breathing space to complete the outstanding fixtures.

A number of Football League clubs fear their owners may walk away if the current season is declared null and void

That will be the overwhelming desire of clubs in the Championship and Leagues One and Two, however possible, with the alternatives – taking the current standings as final or scrapping the season – in danger of pushing owners away.

In the Premier League clubs have a number of lucrative revenue sources alongside their owners, including broadcasting deals, match day income and significant commercial deals.

Lower down the pyramid, however, the issue is a bigger one with sides more reliant on the financial input of their owners to stay afloat.

The EFL will meet this week to discuss their plans for the remainder of the campaign

And concerns have been raised that if they are left with no return on this season’s investment because the campaign is wiped, some will choose to or be forced to step aside having been left out of pocket and unable to fund their clubs for another year.

The prospect is one that will be occupying the minds of senior club chiefs ahead of their meeting with the EFL this week.

Some clubs will also be requiring loans to make up for their loss of income following the cancellation of matches until next month.

How that shortfall is made up will also be a topic of discussion when the league’s clubs meet.

 

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A-League clubs bracing for financial black hole from empty stadiums

A-League clubs are bracing for a multimillion-dollar financial hit as a result of the federal government's move to effectively ban mass gatherings of more than 500 people from Monday onwards.

This weekend's fixtures could be the last time fans will be able to attend A-League fixtures within Australia this season, with club sources fearing the cash-flow implications of playing behind closed doors as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the potential for up to $2 million in lost revenue from the finals series.

Wanderers fans were in full voice at the last A-League derby in Sydney, but the next one is likely to be closed to the public.Credit:AAP

Football Federation Australia and A-League management gave the green light on Friday for fans to attend all games this weekend – including W-League semi-finals, the National Premier Leagues, the early rounds of the FFA Cup, and grassroots and community fixtures. A raft of "mitigation protocols" will be implemented, including bans on supporter-player contact, player walkouts with mascots, handshakes and strict media access rules.

FFA chief executive James Johnson said the game's COVID-19 working committee had a "long debate" over whether they should follow the lead of the NBL and AFLW and start playing behind closed doors straight away, but decided to follow the government's lead.

"They have more information than what we do and they are the experts. We are acting in line with that advice," Johnson said. "Of course it's for the fans to decide if they would like to come and if they can come. If they don't want to come, they don't have to come."

Johnson said as far as he was aware, no players had yet been tested for coronavirus.

He was reluctant to speculate what would happen with matches next week, but said the sport would follow the government's advice on mass gatherings of more than 500 people. That leaves them with two clear options: suspend matches or play behind closed doors.

"That position, we have not taken yet, we are considering it and we will have a view on that after the next meeting of the national cabinet on Sunday," Johnson said.

Both have the potential to drain the coffers of A-League clubs, who are already financially stricken.

A-League clubs are not as reliant on ticket sales as teams in the AFL or NRL – indeed, some actually lose money from home games because of unfavourable stadium deals. But it still remains a major source of revenue, along with memberships. Some clubs are wary of the prospect of having to partially refund memberships to fans who are locked out of stadiums.

FFA CEO James Johnson.Credit:AAP

"These are things we're going to have to assess and work closely with the leagues on as we move forward," Johnson said.

Next week's Sydney derby at Bankwest Stadium was looming as a lucrative gate for the Western Sydney Wanderers, but instead it will almost certainly be played out in front of empty grandstands.

But the biggest concern revolves around the finals series, which is due to begin in May.

Ticket sales from the finals used to go straight into FFA's coffers, but with the A-League now operationally independent of the governing body, that money was to go to the clubs this season. One club source estimated the finals series alone – comprising five games, including the grand final – would be worth around $2 million in ticketing revenue.

There is also a potential issue involving the Wellington Phoenix. The government has advised against all "non-essential" international travel, and Johnson was unsure what that meant for trans-Tasman flights for A-League teams.

"It's a very complex question," he said. "We've set this committee up to deal with these exceptional circumstances. As far as I'm concerned it's international travel, so we will need to follow the advice of the government strictly on this point. It's something we're going to have to consider when we meet again on Sunday."

Meanwhile, all travel involving Australia's men's and women's national teams has been suspended. The situation would appear to put not only the Matildas' Olympic campaign in doubt but also the Socceroos' participation at the Copa America.

"We have to wait and see what the world will look like come the middle of this calendar year," Johnson said. "We are in touch with CONMEBOL and FIFA on a daily basis on this matter, but there's no update at this stage."

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Clubs heed FFA’s call by setting up new A-League advisory board

A new advisory committee has been set up to help steer the A-League back on track and simplify the competition's governance structures while it awaits formal independence from Football Federation Australia.

Four senior club representatives have been seconded onto the committee, which will serve as a de facto commission until the A-League can be legally separated from FFA in three years' time.

A-League chief Greg O’Rourke will now report directly to the four-man ‘advisory committee’.Credit:AAP

Sydney FC chairman Scott Barlow, Melbourne Victory chairman Anthony Di Pietro, Brisbane Roar vice-chairman Chris Fong and Melbourne City vice-chairman Simon Pearce will sit on the panel, which will not have a specified leader.

It is a small change but an important one as the A-League seeks to wrest itself from the sense of inertia that has anchored this season.

Two weeks ago, FFA chief executive James Johnson urged club owners to get moving with their plans for the A-League and more clearly define the role and responsibilities of competition chief Greg O'Rourke. The creation of the advisory committee is a direct response to that call to action.

Instead of reporting to all 12 club owners at once, O'Rourke will instead report to the committee, who will work with him on bringing their strategic plans for the A-League to life.

"We need to give him guidance and support and leadership," Fong said. "He's been dealing with 12 clubs, but this advisory committee removes that.

"We're not making major decisions on behalf of the whole league – we're the conduit to the rest of the clubs. There's a multitude of things we're going through and we're going to start slowly implementing our strategies. Making the game more exciting and more entertaining is all part of it.

"This committee will be driving that with Greg and his team and reporting back to a broader group of the A-League clubs."

O'Rourke is in charge of a business unit within FFA that runs the A-League, W-League, Y-League and E-League, but the governing body itself no longer has any oversight on day-to-day matters or the strategic direction of those competitions.

The leagues were supposed to be formally separated from FFA by now, but club owners discovered that full-blown independence could have provided Fox Sports with an opportunity to exit the current A-League broadcast agreement.

In response, the legal separation was delayed until the end of the TV deal in 2023 – but in doing so, the A-League's governance was left in something of a halfway house, a situation which this new advisory committee is intended to resolve.

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