March 10, 2020 / 4:38 PM / 20 days ago

Soccer-Neville warns games in empty stadiums threatens smaller clubs

LONDON, March 10 (Reuters) - Former Manchester United defender, and part-owner of English fourth-tier club Salford City, Gary Neville says playing matches behind closed doors could have serious consequences for club’s outside the Premier League.

English soccer has so far carried on regardless of the coronavirus virus crisis that has shut down the Italian Serie A and prompted the Spanish and French leagues to announce that matches will go ahead without supporters present.

While the government declared on Monday that it remains business as usual for sporting events, a continued rise in the amount of infections could result in similar measures to those being employed on the continent.

Such is the huge amount of money Premier League clubs rake in from broadcasting, playing matches behind closed doors would have a minimal financial impact.

For lower league clubs, gate revenues are often the lifeblood for the day-to-day operation and Neville says delaying the season, not barring fans, is the best option.

“I do not support matches played behind closed doors,” Neville said on Twitter. “If it’s necessary to shut down stadiums, the associations must find a way of delaying the season and playing the games when it is safe to do so to protect the revenues for clubs that require this income to survive.”

The Premier League’s current five billion pounds ($6.47 billion) domestic TV deal from 2019-2022 has maintained the English top-flight’s place as the world’s richest soccer league.

Even the club that finishes bottom this year will earn around 100 million pounds in TV revenue.

Bournemouth’s accounts to June 2018 showed gate receipts of 5.29 million, just 4% of the club’s annual turnover.

It is a far cry from the Football League, England’s second, third and fourth tier, where many smaller clubs operate on extremely tight budgets.

“For league clubs that can’t afford this disruption, money is everything!” Neville said. “(Delaying the fixtures) keeps people safe and protects the revenue the clubs need.

“Playing behind closed doors is not an option in my opinion. Some clubs would require short term loans that could be repaid when the games do get played.” ($1 = 0.7724 pounds) (Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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