WFS Live: league chiefs discuss covid-19 impact on domestic divisions
The chief administrators of three league bodies in Europe came together to discuss how their competitions have dealt with the coronavirus pandemic.
Moderator Alberto Colombo, the deputy general secretary of European Leagues, was joined by the chief administrators of three league bodies in Europe on Thursday, as the online football summit WFS Live hosted a discussion on how domestic divisions have coped with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The second virtual edition of World Football Summit’s flagship congress, this week’s WFS Live is bringing together global leaders in the game to look at the challenges facing the industry - particularly in the wake of covid-19 - under the motto: ‘Building football’s roadmap for the future’.
'Football League Management in COVID times'
Entitled ‘Football League Management in COVID times’, Thursday’s roundtable featured Neil Doncaster, CEO of the Scottish Professional Football League; Mats Enquist, general secretary and CEO of the Swedish Football League; and Claudius Schaefer, CEO of the Swiss Football League.
Enquist: Completion of Swedish season has required inflexible stance on coronavirus-related postponements
Unlike in the majority of other European countries, the Swedish league runs from spring to winter of the same calendar year, so Enquist was able to offer the perspective of having organised and (nearly) completed a full season amid the pandemic, with just two rounds to go of a campaign that began in June.
One of the keys to getting the 2020 season to the finish line, Enquist said, was taking a hardline stance against postponements over covid-19 outbreaks. “We realised very quickly that there was absolutely no room to move matches,” he explained. “We wouldn’t be able to finish up the league, and this obviously affects sponsor agreements.
“We took the top two tiers in Sweden, Allsvenskan and Superettan, and all 32 clubs agreed that we took a joint decision that we are not going to move [games] again - whatever happens we will play, and we will play with juniors if we have to. And this was quite an important discussion to be united on.”
SPFL chief: Scottish league clubs need more financial help from the government
While Sweden was preparing for a new campaign when the pandemic hit, Scotland was in the middle of its league term - and after an initial suspension to the 2019/20 season, the decision was taken in May to curtail the four divisions that are part of the SPFL, with clubs’ final positions calculated on a points-per-game basis.
Scottish league football then returned in August for the 2020/21 season, but the lack of fans in stadiums has hit clubs in the country extremely hard, Doncaster explained, as they are particularly dependent on gate receipts. In all, 60% of the income earned by teams in the SPFL comes from the turnstiles, he revealed.
He estimated that the losses incurred by having to play behind closed doors have so far amounted to around 70 million pounds across the SPFL, and he urged Scotland’s government to do more to help out cash-strapped clubs as that figure continues to increase.
“[The league-wide losses are] likely to rise to around 100 million pounds by the end of the season, and despite that, we've had no financial support from the Scottish government as yet,” he said. ”And there are no fans in Scottish stadia - there haven't been since the beginning of the season - other than up to 300 fans in three of our 42 clubs.”
Amid gate receipts losses, clubs in Switzerland given major financial backing from country's government
Teams in Switzerland have received significant financial support, said Schaefer, who detailed the agreements that have been struck with the Swiss government to keep similarly gate-receipts-dependent clubs afloat.
“The government decided to give to our clubs loans,” he said. “And these loans are quite a huge amount. They are for 25% of the yearly costs of a club in season 18/19 - this is the basis to make the calculation. The clubs get those loans without interest, and they have to pay them back in 10 years, so they have quite a lot of time.”
Schaefer explained that an initial drive to get stadiums back to two-thirds capacity in Switzerland was scuppered by the second wave of the coronavirus, “but the good thing was that the government was really aware of how important gate receipts are for Swiss football”. As a result, he revealed, clubs will now also receive subsidies to make up for this lost income.
“The government decided one week ago that they will pay to the clubs two-thirds of their ticketing income, again based on season 18/19,” he said, “ and this amount to the clubs, they don’t have to pay back.” He concluded: “This is a really important help from the government."