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Never mind this season - what’s going to happen to Sunderland in 2020/21?

As football chiefs pull their hair out to come to a solution for the present season, hardly any mention has been made of, more importantly, what will happen in the next campaign...

Sunderland v Oxford United - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

As some parts of the world slowly, gingerly extricate themselves from the full Coronavirus lockdown their respective top football leagues have started or at least have plans in place to complete the season.

The Germans, ever efficient and organised much like the way they have dealt with the pandemic already have their top flight Bundesliga teams resuming games behind closed doors. The Italians plan to restart the rest of Serie A soon, as do the Spanish in La Liga. Even the Premier League has pencilled in a provisional start date for the remaining games of the season.

The clubs in the top leagues of course are considerably richer in terms of TV contracts, sponsorship and prize money, and it is very much in their interests to complete the season even if it is behind closed doors.

Gate money to them is a source of revenue but it would not finish them if they did not have it. In the Premier League matchday income on average for any club is estimated to be around 15% of the total revenue.

It is a different story in the lower leagues, where gate receipts and match day income are the main sources for the clubs, and with this in mind from League Two down the clubs have taken decisive action in voting to end the season right now.

Sunderland v Manchester City U21 - Checkatrade Trophy Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

In League One, although we are about to find June upon us, the clubs still cannot agree how to bring this season to an end. It is this indecisiveness which should be of great concern to all fans who follow clubs at this level, because if the clubs in League One cannot figure out what they are going to do with this season at this point, then what does that say about the attention that has been paid to next season?

It is also worth pointing out that the clubs in all the top four leagues in England have carried out testing for Covid-19 on their players - all apart from League One.

To remind ourselves of the big picture, the reality is right now because of Coronavirus any large gathering of people is unwise and prohibited. So forget crowds, forget concerts, forget any spectator sports, forget spectators at football - Coranavirus is likely to be around for some time to come, and won’t disappear from our lives until a vaccine is found or it eventually dies out. Treatment may be found to make it less lethal, but it is still as contagious as ever and there will not be any change to the two metre social distancing we have to undertake from each other between now and September.

Which brings us to how this affects us, Sunderland fans, our club and the League that we play in.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Huddersfield owner Phil Hodgkinson spoke on May 24th of looking at a worse case scenario of no fans being allowed in stadiums for the 20-21 season.

The problem is not whether we finish [this] season or not, it is what happens after that.

If we go back to my point above about what drives the income of a football club and spell it out simply - the Premier League can take a hit of no spectators. Sure, they will have to trim down their expenses, such as wages for playing staff, but they could manage. In the lower leagues, for us as fans of Sunderland AFC, no spectators means very little in the way of income.

The technology is there for streaming of games, but in terms of income would that replace gate receipts? For one, could a club justify charging the same for a streaming pass as for a match ticket? The answer is surely no. Second, where as normally everybody wanting to go to a game pays for a match ticket, when a game is streamed any number could view the game for the cost of one streaming pass, which again vastly reduces the amount a club can make from this source. Also, the clubs lose out on the other matchday income they would normally make, such as kiosks, programmes and so on, so questions have to be asked if an entire season could be sustained on the revenue from streaming passes.

Because nobody really knows what the future holds, there has been little activity by any club, not just Sunderland in renewing the contracts of players that expire this summer.

The word has hardly been mentioned just yet, but ‘mothballing’ of the lower leagues is a real possibility. Not all clubs would want that to happen. Look at the way the clubs in League One have divided over ending the current season - the problem is that to play an entire season, you have to get everybody on board, and for many clubs that is just not financially viable whether they would want to or not.

We have been here before, when football shutdown completely for a number of years during the two world wars. Playing staff were released, no matches were played and some of the reasons were uncannily as they are now, in that it was unsafe to gather large crowds together.

Let us all hope that there isn’t as long a break now before it is safe to do that again.

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