The government needs to provide support for football clubs throughout the leagues to stop more going under
Football clubs need certainty, but they are simply not getting it, writes Stephen Morgan MP | PA Images
Clubs like Portsmouth FC must not be forgotten through this crisis – their economic and community value is too great
It has been an incredibly difficult time for football clubs across the country. And although it was fantastic to see the new season kick-off last week, despite perhaps not getting the result Pompey fans wanted, there are acutely different challenges ahead for those clubs that lie outside the Premier League.
Whilst it was no doubt very welcome news for football fans that all Premier League games this month would be televised, this does nothing to support the revenue streams for clubs in the English Football League (EFL). Historically, EFL teams receive proportionately a lot less TV revenue compared to clubs at the highest level, and generally have a higher dependency on ticket, confectionary and merchandise sales.
Last month, I went to visit the CEO of Portsmouth Football Club, Mark Catlin, to hear about the fantastic initiatives the club is exploring to boost its revenue streams during this difficult time. Just one example being the introduction of the innovative flexi-season ticket that would allow a reduced, socially distanced fan attendance.
But the government has been lacking in its guidance and support for football clubs, particularly those not sitting at the top of the pyramid. The secretary of state for culture, media and sport, Oliver Dowden, recently responded to a question saying he is asking football to ‘support itself’ through this crisis – a response totally bereft of the understanding of scale of the challenge ahead.
EFL clubs lost £50m of gate income in the 2019/20 season by playing matches behind closed doors (Championship) or curtailing the season (Leagues One and Two) and will lose a further £200m if crowds do not return during the 2020/21 campaign.
Meanwhile, there is no indication from the government of when fans will be allowed to return to stadia. Right now, football clubs need certainty, but they are simply not getting it.
A fortnight ago, I attended a fan-led discussion, set up by the shadow sports team and chaired by The News, for Pompey fans to share their experiences and views about how government policy can be improved to protect football clubs throughout the country.
Portsmouth fans know too well about the importance of having good and decent owners of football clubs, as well as what it takes to save one from oblivion. Recent examples of where this may not have happened of course include the sad case of Wigan entering administration, the recent wind up of Macclesfield Town and Bury FC folding as a club completely after 134 years. It was really good to hear the interesting ideas proposed by supporters on the call, including improvements made to the Owners’ and Directors’ Test and a new independent regulatory body set up to boost standards and protections for clubs.
I remember being taken to Pompey games as a boy with my dad (who to this day remains a season-ticket holder) and seeing how intrinsically part of the fabric of the community our club is, and this is no different today for many clubs across England. Whether that be through the jobs or income the club brings to the local economy, or the fantastic work of the community foundations like Portsmouth’s very own Pompey in the Community (PiTC), who I also met with recently.
This is of course is a challenging time for everyone, but the government needs to be providing more clarity, certainty and support for all football clubs, not just those at the top. Because as is the case for many clubs in the EFL, our football club’s success is our city’s success.
Stephen Morgan is Labour MP for Portsmouth South and shadow defence minister