Premier League clubs may choose not to allow fans back into games when the government’s ban on supporters ends next week because they will be at a financial loss in having such a smaller number allowed in to matches.
Boris Johnson announced the first step towards the return of fans on Monday as part of the three-tier system that will come into place from next Wednesday when the second national lockdown ends. Under the plans, outdoor sporting venues located in tier 1 areas will be allowed up to 4,000 fans in attendance, with those in tier 2 given provision for 2,000 supporters. Any venue in the harshest tier 3 restrictions will remain closed to the public.
The news will see up to 4,000 supporters inside stadia that have a capacity of up to 76,000 in the Premier League, but while there is plenty of space to enforce social distancing measures, clubs are concerned that the return of such a small number will not be financially viable given the cost of running games - especially with the inflated price of matchdays due to Covid-safe protocols.
Clubs will be free to make their own decision on whether to reopen their doors or wait for an increase in the number of fans allowed until they welcome them back, with the Premier League set to continue its dialogue with government to find a solution that would enable all teams to welcome more fans that removes the loss-making factor.
It has also called for progress on a clear road map for the full return of fans, which it believes will be aided by the implementation of pilot events similar to the ones witnessed in September to trial the safe return of supporters in greater numbers.
A Premier League statement read: “Fans have been greatly missed at Premier League matches and therefore we welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement today regarding the return of supporters for the first time since March, albeit at small numbers.
“Our ambition remains to work with government to increase attendance to more substantial levels. Until this can be done, many fans will be unable to attend games and our clubs will continue to operate matches at a financial loss.
“Our priority continues to be the agreement of a roadmap, with DCMS and the Sports Technology and Innovation Group, for pilot events that can help our clubs quickly scale up to larger capacities in line with the Sports Ground Safety Authority’s Covid-secure guidelines and beyond.
“Premier League clubs have a proven track record of achieving high-biosecurity standards and we believe we can play a significant role in the Government’s rapid turnaround testing initiative.
“We look forward to working with government on their next steps.”
The Premier League went against government plans to introduce events attended by 1,000 supporters back in September as it would have been uneconomic for them, with the threshold understood to be around 10,000 tickets sold before clubs break even on matchdays.
Fans who are able to return to games are set to be subjected to strict restrictions that may include the prevention of shouting, singing and drinking in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
A Premier League briefing sent to all clubs on Monday laid out some of the measures that will need to be considered when approving stadium reopening plan, with the document highlighting that possible preventions “may include singing, shouting and alcohol consumption,” and that the final draft will be “in plain and concise language” that fans will need to agree to upon ticket purchase.
The issue is also complicated by the uncertainty over which tier each club could fall in, with the Prime Minister confirming that the new system will not be in place until Thursday, leaving clubs under a week before they are free to open their doors to supporters - if desired.
It means that next weekend’s Champions League match between Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain could be the first football match to have fans back in attendance, with Uefa rules permitting up to 30 per cent of home supporters to attend that covers the UK’s provision of 4,000 for tier 1 venues and 2,000 for tier 2. However, United cannot proceed with any plans for the match given they do not yet know which tier they will fall in, with Manchester subjected to the harshest restrictions before the current lockdown because of its high numbers of coronavirus cases.