David Baldwin writes open letter focusing on pilot programme and fans returning to stadiums
In recent days we have all been boosted by the news that we are in a position to move forward with the next phase of the pilot programme and give a small number of our Clubs the opportunity to welcome back up to a 1,000 fans this weekend.
As we showed at Cambridge United’s recent EFL Trophy fixture, social distancing can be applied safely, and by following the robust safety requirements and guidance from Government and the SGSA, including the Rule of Six, we hope to further demonstrate that the safety measures developed can allow fans to return in greater numbers from as early as next month.
With that in mind, I’m also incredibly conscious that the live football experience remains out of reach for so many of us, and now that the 2020/21 season is underway, I’m writing directly to supporters of every EFL Club today as I feel it is important to provide you with an update on a range of related matters.
Under normal circumstances, following the conclusion of this weekend’s fixtures all supporters would have had an opportunity to attend a home league match at their Club. It’s at this time of the season that there is an air of optimism amongst all supporters, and the excitement for a new campaign can normally be tangible amongst the crowds across stadia around the country. We will all feel that again but at this stage we can only go as fast as the virus will let us.
If anything, the pandemic has shown the importance of being innovative and adaptable and having an online platform to stream matches in place of the live match experience has meant that Clubs have had an alternative option to ensure their supporters do not miss any of the action.
The streaming of matches (via iFollow or equivalent service) is a temporary measure that has been put in place whilst Clubs operate at a zero or reduced capacity as a result of the pandemic and will be subject to regular review. The deal agreed with Sky Sports will allow Clubs to mitigate against no or limited gate receipts, but also gives supporters a platform to watch and follow their team and we know many fans have been making the most of the service at the start of the season.
While iFollow is a hugely important revenue stream for EFL Clubs, particularly at the current time given the lack of matchday income, I speak for all EFL Clubs when I stress the importance of the efforts being made to welcome fans back to matches at the earliest opportunity. The sight, sound and passion of supporters filling our stadia is integral to the game as we know it, and it has been sorely missed since the pandemic outbreak in March.
It would be remiss of me not to mention that the ongoing efforts shown by our Clubs, against a backdrop of lost crucial matchday and commercial revenues, has been outstanding, and more than ever before they continue to need your support as we look to navigate through the challenges of the coming campaign.
The financial picture remains stark. EFL Clubs lost £50m in gate receipts in the 2019/20 season and combined with a reduction in commercial revenue, the financial pressures on our Clubs is unrelenting. While the League has been working on multiple plans to provide Clubs with financial support without spectators, it is estimated a further £200m will be lost if crowds do not return during the 2020/21 campaign. The contribution to football’s finances made by match-going supporters should not be underestimated and is critical to the viability of League football and all EFL Clubs.
The pilot events give cause for optimism that a return of spectators in greater numbers will be possible before too long, but I’m acutely aware that the health and well-being of supporters and their wider communities remains the priority. Therefore, we will continue to be guided by Government in regard to what is permitted. Since the Covid-19 outbreak, a significant period of planning with our Clubs, DCMS and the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) has ultimately led to the development of a set of stringent operational guidelines for the application of social distancing at football grounds. The implementation of these guidelines is not straightforward, which is why some clubs have, unfortunately, had to withdraw from this weekend’s pilots citing time constraints.
I am confident that the work that has taken place means we are as well prepared as we can be. It is 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 examples of how to return to a degree of normality safely with social distancing in place.
Clubs have been working to put in place a range of systems and processes to ensure the safety of all supporters at our matches, however it is vitally important that all match attendees play their part in making each event safe and enjoyable and to do so we need your continued support and cooperation.
As part of football proposed return and in accordance with Government’s Stage 5 guidance on the admission of spectators to football stadia, all Clubs are required to implement a Spectators’ Code of Conduct. The Code of Conduct acts to principally guide and advise ticket holders of the protocols and safety requirements in place during each matchday event, in order to assist Club staff and stewards, and to help protect you and your fellow spectators.
Some of the measures Clubs are required to implement will inevitably impact on the usual routine supporters may be used to but I would ask supporters returning to their Clubs over the coming weeks that you provide your full cooperation with all protocols in place.
In the coming days and weeks ahead the EFL will also continue its discussions with Government as we look to get fans back in stadia in greater numbers post October 1, 2020. We will endeavour to continue to provide answers and solutions, whilst keeping the health of our Clubs, its staff, supporters – as well as that of the entire nation - in mind.
I thank you for your patience so far and as we move through the next few weeks I hope I will be able to bring further clarity on what happens next. For now, thank you for your ongoing support and, please, stay safe.
Chief Executive Officer