Will the Football League return in its current format or will it need to adapt to survive?
Mark Wood says...
Unless the virus is eradicated in this country between now and the scheduled start of next season, then I cannot see crowds being permitted at games and for League 1 and 2. That is a catastrophic problem for club finances, as gate money is the major income stream at this level.
I can’t see the leagues being able to undertake a complete season without crowds; even streaming will only generate a much reduced income in my opinion. Something will have to give, the first of which would be the playing wage bill in the form of reduced squad size and salary caps.
The lack of enthusiasm for any clubs to sign up players who are due to be out of contract shows that there is already concerns looking ahead. To be honest more is probably needed, such as regionalised North and South leagues, but you still have to worry how clubs can close the huge gap between income and expenditure that they are facing.
Apart from those options, there is one nobody wants but might have to face if a solution isn’t found...mothballing the lower leagues until it is safe for us to return to the stands.
Mark Carrick says...
It has been widely reported that lower leagues simply cannot function effectively without match day income. Some consideration has to be made if football is to resume next season.
With the proposed squad size and salary limitations, there may be some way to reorganise budgets, promote youth and allow teams to compete on a more even level within the EFL.
However, legacy situations will undoubtedly affect teams coming down from the Premier League in exactly the same way as Sunderland have found out. There needs to be plan to help these clubs to conform to salary caps in particular.
As regards format, if the EFL are to make radical changes, now is the time. For all Covid-19 brings challenges, it also brings opportunities. A regional setup at League 1 and League 2 levels, with promotion to the Championship made available to winners of the regional League 1 divisions, would naturally mean a shake-up for the play-off competition - but that could be worked through.
Work would also need to be done in collaboration with the Premier League to ensure those gaining promotion are able to compete, otherwise clubs leaving the Championship will simply yo-yo between leagues.
Next season may come too soon for dramatic changes but certain proposals, like regional divisions, could be useful to limit player movements and manage travel budgets, even if fans are unable to attend in person.
Gary Engel says...
For sometime I thought the rush towards curtailing the season was a way of avoiding the big question for League’s One and Two. How do those clubs continue without matchday revenue? The answer for the final games of last season was, they can’t.
So, if clubs can’t function for nine matches, how are they meant to fund the start of a new season? My response to that is the same. Call me cynical, but I thought that Bury FC were thrown under the bus earlier in the season to force a rescue package through at Bolton Wanderers.
I’m now wondering if something similar could be afoot, either to encourage a bailout for League’s One and Two to play on behind closed doors, or to go a step further to transform the divisions into a glorified “B League”.
It has been proposed before, but now the realisation of a league version of the Football League Trophy could be the answer the EFL proposes. So, as some local clubs fall, the lower divisions could be filled by reserve teams of clubs like Liverpool or Manchester City.
Another solution could be separate Northern and Southern leagues, but unless something changes radically in the coming weeks regarding Covid-19, I don’t see a way for League One and Two to return as they were - at least not in 2020.
Rich Speight says...
It is very clear that football without fans at this level is totally financially unsustainable. Due to our unique scale, Sunderland may just be able to sell enough merchandise and streaming passes, and raise enough working capital from internal and external lenders, to survive one season behind closed doors, but few amongst the other 46 clubs in Leagues 1 and 2 would be able to follow suit.
What is required, in my view, is a wholesale reform of the finances of the English professional football pyramid. However, the Premier League, being a separate entity with from the ELF, is unlikely to agree to the kind of revenue sharing that used to exist before 1992 and sustains the lower tiers of football, as happens in other European leagues. So, like other socially and culturally important industries, it will ultimately fall to national government to ensure that the ‘rules of the game’ are changed in order to allow clubs to survive.
As beneficiaries of the emergency furlough scheme, football clubs are already on a form of corporate life-support. I suspect that, come the end of the summer, pressure will build for further state intervention to ensure clubs survive until a vaccine is rolled out and we can return to watching games in the flesh. It may be combined with a one-off regionalisation, creating more local derbies and reducing travel costs, will be part of the package, especially if it comes in response to a slew of historic clubs going bust in the weeks ahead.
The plan to create a state-backed Football Finance Authority, put forward by Charlie Methven and MP Damian Collins, and supported by the Football Supporters’ Association, is the only vaguely viable plan that has emerged so far in response to the existential crisis in our national game. Rugby League has been bailed out by the public purse already and, if everyone is to have a club to support when the 2020-21 season finally kicks off, it may be that we have to hold our nose while football shareholders receive our tax money too.