European football resumes as financial pressure pushes broadcasters, leagues

Bundesliga returning to action was among the most watched events for sports fans across Europe recently. After a 61-day break, when the teams got down to business, fans heaved a sigh of relief. They were getting to watch football after a nine-week break.

It was no less comforting for the brands that ride on the popularity of the sport in Germany. And, indeed, across Europe too. Matches are being played without fans in the stadium, but it could well be worth it.

English Premier League could see action resuming on June 17 while Spain’s La Liga will be back from June 11. For the fans, that has been the most heartening news.

Serie A has a tentative date to relaunch from June 20 and a lesser significant Coppa Italia will be back in action from June 13.

No.  League Restart Date
1 LaLiga June 11
2 Coppa Italia June 13
3 Premier League June 17
4 Serie A June 20

Over the last few weeks, the action had shifted behind the scenes. Clubs were worried about health and safety of all officials and players besides the fans. Broadcasters were worried about lack of actions while fans wanted more.

Now that matches have begun, without fans, at least there is football to be seen.

High stakes for comeback

The stakes for leagues getting back on track have been huge. Brands who have traditionally associated with the sport can’t do enough with empty stadiums. Broadcasters have also been struggling how to get the fans hooked to the screen without live sport.

Bundesliga, for example, was under pressure from dozens of its small and large brands which have had their promotional and other activities disrupted due to the virus.

The delay in the league is believed to have cost the Premier League an estimated $367 million. According to reports, that amount will have to be repaid to the broadcasters by the clubs. If the season would have been called off, the league could have had to pay $1 billion to the broadcasters, the Chief Executive Richard Masters wrote to the British government.

In France, BeIN Sport and Canal+ informed the leagues that they would not make payments for television rights if there was no live sport that could have got them the eyeballs. They skipped paying $120 million in instalments in April. The next payment is due in June.

La Liga’s Javier Tebas had earlier said that even if the season was called off it could mean a $1.1 billion loss for the league. With the league now being held behind closed doors, it could mean nearly $325 million in losses.

The message from the leagues is clear – broadcasters’ agreements must be honoured.

With fans missing in the absence of action, the finances of clubs have taken a hit too. For the quarter ending March 31, Manchester United reported a loss of £28 million. At the beginning of the year, it had predicted annual revenues between £560-580 million. That projection has been withdrawn due to the pandemic.

In the Premier League 92 matches are still to be played. It could provide some relief to the clubs, league, broadcaster and bolster their earnings.

Real action, unreal fans

Inside or out of the ground, the fans can breathe life into the sport. League organisers know this. If there is live football, there is little reason to believe people will not cheer. They are now looking at the next best option – technology.

For fans watching it live on television, La Liga could have the look of a video game for the rest of the season. The league wants to add virtual crowds when the live images are beamed to peoples’ homes. It is hoping that that will keep the fans excited.

Also read: LaLiga to resume with Seville derby, ‘fans’ applause’ in stadiums

“We want to give fans options. The tests I’ve seen so far are impressive,” Spanish League President Javier Tebas told a local newspaper

To give players the feeling of fans inside the stadium, Bundesliga matches have recorded fan noise and sounds, along with the broadcast ever since the league has returned to television screens No one could have imagined that sound engineers could have such a role in a football match.

Lights. Camera. Action. That will acquire a new meaning as the rest of the season for European football rolls out.

Leagues called off

Some leagues chose not to bother about the earnings hit and called it off.

Belgium was the first to announce that it was cancelling the rest of the league for the season. The French Prime Minister announced that no sporting events will be allowed till September, ending the season for Ligue 1 and Ligue 2. The Dutch season has also been cancelled after the government extended the ban on all events till the end of July.

Completing the unfinished leagues is very important since the relegation formalities have still to be decided for the draw next year. The European qualifications for the Europa League and the UEFA Champions League are still to be decided.

Some clubs, who could be pipped at the post in qualifying for the UEFA Champions League, are also weighing legal options. Sixth-placed Utrecht said that they would not accept the decision of the Dutch Football Association.

The action has, thanks to the pandemic, also shifted out of the stadium partly. The real action will take it back to where it belongs.

  • Ashutosh Sinha is the founder of WordWiseWeb Media. Read his weekly column on the business of sport here. He can be connected on Twitter at ashutoshsinha00

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