ENDING the football season early would cost lower-tier football clubs an average £1.8 million in lost TV and gate receipt income, alarming figures have revealed.
This cost represents an average 56% of their revenue – laying bare the scale of the crisis facing the nation’s lower league clubs.
The research by the Onward think tank also found that dozens of local sports clubs face going under even if the season is restarted next season.
The study analysed the accounts of every English Football League, County Cricket, Rugby Union and Rugby League club.
Two thirds of all clubs recorded an operating loss in their most recent accounts, exposing the precarious finances of clubs going into the crisis.
Onward called on ministers to act urgently “to protect the clubs that are the pride of many communities, which will be needed to bring the country back together again once the crisis is over”.
Of the 71 clubs playing in the English Football League this season, 47 posted an operating loss in their most recent accounts and six clubs are in serious financial trouble, according to the latest Begbies Traynor Football Distress Index, including established clubs such as Oldham Athletic and Notts County, the world’s oldest professional club.
English Football League clubs, on average, rely on gate receipts and TV income for more than two-thirds (69%) of their revenue.
Rugby league clubs are particularly hard hit because their season only started in January, meaning they are set to lose receipts from more than two-thirds of matches compared to just a fifth of games for neighbouring football clubs.
A number of Super League clubs were already in financial difficulties, with four top-tier clubs going into administration since 2011.
Club chairmen estimate that clubs could lose up to £1 million each if the season is suspended.
The Government has since stepped in to support Rugby League with a £16 million loan.
Rugby Union clubs receive 29 per cent of their income from gate receipts and a further 25% from commercial revenue.
This means that over half of club income – around £7 million – is vulnerable as a result of the crisis.
Half of the clubs in the Gallagher Premiership posted an operating loss in their most recent season’s accounts.
County Cricket clubs are less reliant on matchday income than other sports due to a grant from the ECB.
The average county club takes 12 per cent of revenue from gate receipts and a further 24 per cent from commercial, catering and hospitality.
This means that just over a third of income is at risk from a prolonged lockdown.
Of those clubs for which accounts are available, 50% posted an operating loss in their most recent accounts.
The report also finds that demand for grassroots sports and exercise is increasing to support people’s physical and mental wellbeing during lockdown, but access to services is limited and declining.
Recent research found that 62 per cent of adults in England say it’s more important to be active now, compared to before coronavirus and 65% also believe exercise is helping them with their mental health during the outbreak.
Onward director Will Tanner said: “The Government’s majority was built on the back of rugby league and football towns in the North and the Midlands, where sport is not so much entertainment as a religion.
“These clubs are not rich – in fact, most are loss-making.
“Even if play resumes, the suspension of the season risks relegating dozens of clubs to the tides of history.
“Before the planned June restart, ministers should take immediate action to protect sports clubs that are the pride of many communities, and which will be needed to bring the country back together again once this pandemic is over.”