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Premier League clubs against neutral venues, face £340m TV hit even if season completed

Richard Masters, chief executive of the Premier League, addresses a media briefing (by Alex Morton/Getty Images for Premier League)

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

The Premier League held a shareholders meeting yesterday (Monday) after the UK government stated that June 1 would be the earliest professional sport could resume in England, even behind closed doors.

The top division of English football has been suspended since mid-March due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The league had been proposing to restart in neutral venues on June 12, with the competition finishing at the start of August.

However, a number of clubs have since hit out at the neutral venues plan, particularly teams at the foot of the table who have cited their concerns over fairness and sporting integrity. The possibility of using neutral venues was raised at yesterday’s meeting, but Premier League chief executive Richard Masters stressed that the shareholders’ desire was to complete the season playing matches at their originally scheduled venues.

Masters said: “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 had argued against using neutral stadia amid concerns fans would still gather in large numbers 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, according to the BBC.

Masters continued: “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.”

The BBC said clubs were told they could lose an estimated £340m to domestic and international broadcasters, even if the season resumes, with The Guardian newspaper adding the figure could amount to between £300m and £350m because the League would not be able to meet contract terms.

The issues would chiefly revolve around 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 was last week said to be in 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. Masters said yesterday: “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 consultation with the players and managers would the League move to the next step of clubs returning to training, but with social-distancing measures put in place. For that, he added, a company had been appointed to conduct testing at club training grounds.

Masters claimed a “really strong collective will to complete the season” remains among the 20 clubs. He added: “We are working flat out with clubs and stakeholders – government, our broadcast partners, the FA, the EFL, PFA and the 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.”