EFL Q&A: Fans returning to stadiums
EFL.com has looked at some of the key questions that are being asked in respect of fans returning to stadiums. The Q&A has been provided ahead of several clubs staging pilot events, with details on what matches will look like for supporters and the importance of crowds returning to EFL Clubs.
1. When will fans be able to return to stadiums, and to what extent?
The health of the public when attending football is the absolute priority, both for the Government and for football clubs, and the EFL is in regular dialogue with the Government to develop and implement the planned return of supporters.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport have been supportive and during September, a number of successful pilot events have been held across sport that have tested the guidance and shown that it can be delivered successfully and safely.
The EFL staged a match with 900 spectators at Cambridge United and all parties were delighted at the club’s application of the new guidance. It was particularly notable that the public were very aware of the requirement to act responsibly and were hugely compliant with regards to the new requirements and took instruction from stewards and tannoy announcements throughout.
In addition, a number of pilot events will take place across all three divisions of the EFL this weekend, all limited at 1,000 but providing a useful opportunity for Clubs and supporters to understand the measures needed to be implemented to ensure the safety of supporters and players and we are hopeful that the Government will continue to consider more opportunities for supporters to return to matches with increasing capacities in the near future.
2. How can supporters return to stadiums at a time when Government recommendations are changing with a ‘Rule of 6’ currently in place?
It is important to understand that supporters returning to stadiums is entirely compatible with the rule of six. In fact, the guidance that is being implemented at grounds followed that principle before the rule of six even existed.
We are all getting used to the new guidance in place from the Government, and just as people are returning to work, children are returning to schools and students are returning to universities in huge numbers, we believe the social distancing measures we have agreed with the relevant authorities ensures that fans can return safely to EFL stadiums.
Don’t forget that EFL Clubs have implemented Covid-secure environments, with large degrees of guidance having been shared to ensure that protocols are implemented to mitigate the risks associated with returning to training and playing.
It is also important to remember that football is one of the most regulated industries in the country when it comes to managing large events, so we believe we can be an exemplar to implementing guidance that allows people to undertake ‘normal’ activities such as attending football matches and set an example of how to return to a degree of normality safely with social distancing in place.
3. How have plans been developed to ensure supporters can return safely?
Over many months, football and the Government (through DCMS & the SGSA) have worked collaboratively to develop a set of stringent operational guidelines for the application of social distancing at football grounds.
This detailed guidance has now been implemented at football stadiums across the country by experienced crowd safety professionals, in order to prepare grounds for the return of crowds as soon as the League gets permission from the Government.
Following the initial pilot phase, where capacity is currently limited to 1,000 supporters, the hope is that EFL Clubs will then be able to operate stadia at around 25-35 per cent of capacity, initially, in order to maintain 1m plus social distancing between supporters in all areas of club grounds.
The EFL currently has a series of pilot events planned for this weekend, and more may follow before the end of the month with the evidence and insight secured from these events being used to help inform the Government’s position on whether supporters can be welcomed back post October 1.
While Clubs have been working hard to implement the required safety measures and protocols across stadia, we also urge all supporters to play their part in ensuring the pilot events, and any attended fixtures thereafter, are safe and enjoyable.
In line with SGSA guidance, Clubs will be issuing any ticket holders with a Code of Conduct to provide guidance around all matchday safety requirements, in order to assist Club staff and stewards, and help protect all spectators in attendance.
4. If fans are to return, how will the ticketing/admission process work?
That is a difficult question for the EFL to answer, as it will be at the discretion of each of our 72 Member Clubs to determine how they allocate ticketing to their supporters, especially at this stage when capacities are limited to small numbers.
The focus of the EFL is to work with Government to try and ensure the number of supporters permitted into EFL stadiums can increase as soon as it is safe to do so as this will ultimately enable Clubs to restore more normality to their ticketing and admission processes, as well as generate much-needed matchday revenue.
5. How will Clubs be affected financially if fans cannot increase in large number soon?
It has to be recognised that football is facing an impending financial crisis, with the Covid-19 pandemic creating arguably the biggest challenge to the finances of EFL clubs in their history.
Clubs have lost crucial matchday income, as well as their commercial revenue while their owners also face the potential loss of revenue from their own businesses, increasing the strain from all sides.
EFL Clubs lost £50m of gate income in the 2019/20 season by playing matches behind closed doors or curtailing the season and will lose a further £200m if crowds do not return during the 2020/21 campaign.
The percentage of turnover from gate receipts is approximately 20-30% across the three divisions, so losing that level of finance is not sustainable and we believe all the work that is being done on the safe return to stadiums with the government and the SGSA is a practical and workable solution going forward.
This body of work remains the League’s number one priority alongside getting the matches played.
6. What is the EFL doing to safeguard Clubs from a financial perspective?
The League has been working on multiple, complex plans to provide EFL Clubs with financial support as a result of the football season starting without spectators.
At the outset, the EFL introduced short-term measures through the advancing of payments due to ensure Clubs could manage the initial shortfalls and adequately prepare to start 2020/21, while we are also continuing discussions with many parties to ensure that Clubs have the support they need to continuing operating through this period of unprecedented challenges for all.
While short term solutions are needed, the EFL has also been working with Clubs to introduce measures to improve sustainability, with Squad Salary Caps’ now in place in League One and League Two.
Discussions regarding sustainability and wage inflation preceded COVID-19, but the pandemic has further highlighted the need for change and dialogue is continuing with Championship Clubs although it is clear there is an appetite to discuss the principle further and conversations will continue later this month.
The financial impact of Covid-19 will be profound for EFL Clubs and the introduction of Salary Caps will help ensure Clubs cannot extend themselves to the point that could cause financial instability. 7. How might plans be affected in the event of a second wave of COVID-19?
There are many unknowns for all of us as the Government continues to take measures deemed necessary to help the country tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and we cannot be complacent in any decisions we take, particularly around the return of supporters to stadiums.
As a result, it wouldn’t be sensible to predict what could happen and if there is going to be a second wave. We will continue with reasonable optimism, and that includes still looking forward to the return of partial crowds, hopefully in the near future.
Behind the scenes, the EFL will continue discussions with all EFL Clubs later this month to consider if there is a need for increased Regulation to determine what might happen in future in the event of a future outbreak or period of sustained postponement.
Considerations such as at what point a season can be considered ‘valid’ or ‘complete’ and when it is voided will be discussed, as will potential issues of who makes the decision to ultimately curtail and on what basis, i.e the application of PPG, will also be factored into these discussions in order to provide further clarity.
It is important that any such decision is agreed upon with our colleagues at the Premier League to ensure a unified approach across English football and we will update fans as soon as we have reached a consensus on this. 8. How can supporters watch EFL matches while matches remain behind closed doors or with heavily limited capacities?
Before the outbreak of Covid-19 the key principle behind iFollow is that it is for fans who can’t make the game – the EFL will always champion supporters making their way through turnstiles as the best way to watch live football (when safe to do so).
However, the pandemic has shown the importance of being innovative and adaptable and having a platform to stream matches in place has meant that Clubs have an alternative option to ensure their supporters do not miss any of the action.
The EFL provided Championship Clubs with almost 200,000 codes for season ticket holders to watch the remaining 2019/20 matches live and a flexible agreement has been made for 2020/21, with the EFL and Sky Sports ensuring that supporters will not miss any of the EFL action when the season returns with all Sky Bet EFL matches either available for broadcast or streaming whilst football remains behind closed doors.
Sky Sports will show 130 live EFL league matches throughout season 2020/21, while those matches not selected for Sky Sports have been made available for Clubs to stream to fans both domestically and overseas on iFollow (or Club equivalent service).
iFollow is a hugely important revenue stream for EFL Clubs, particularly at the current time given the lack of matchday income, and the deal agreed with Sky Sports will allow Clubs not only benefit financially, but also gives supporters a platform to watch and follow their team.
The streaming of matches is a temporary measure that has been put in place whilst Clubs operate at a zero or reduced capacity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and will be subject to regular review.
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