Europe was heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 and football has been on a lockdown ever since. No matches have been played for just over 2 months, with the exception of the Belarusian Premier League. Not only are football fans now suffering long weekends without watching their favorite team play, but there is a big deal of uncertainty in an industry worth billions of euros.
Usually by the end of May the season is over and players can enjoy a well-deserved rest until national teams play their respective tournaments, if any, such as the World Cup. With leagues being 2 months behind schedules, a lot of questions arise on whether these will be concluded or simply cancelled.
The Netherlands was the first country to officially cancel the remainder of its season and no champion was declared for the first time since World War II. But other than the absence of a titleholder, calling off a season has an extensive list of implications. It requires a solution for what teams will qualify to European competitions and which teams will be promoted and demoted.
That is the case of France where a very heated debate has been going on. The French Football Federation cancelled the League 1 and announced the ranking table would remain as it is, with the current leader PSG claiming the championship, second to fourth teams qualifying to the UEFA Champions League and the bottom three being demoted. Olympique Lyonnais announced it was taking legal action against the French League’s decision to end the season. This comes as Lyon is a regular participant of European competitions, but this season the club had a rough start and was currently sitting on the seventh position, therefore missing qualification. The club claims it is being punished by the cancellation of the league. Similarly, Amiens who was sitting second to bottom launched a petition to the Federation to review the decision, claiming that it goes against the fairness of the sport to demote them.
UEFA however, has encouraged domestic leagues to finish their seasons to grant titles, European qualification and promotions based on merit. Following UEFA’s advice, Germany was the first country to restart their league on May 16 with strict measures such as playing on an empty stadium. Spain also announced their league will restart on June 12. The rest of the European countries are yet to make a decision. Restarting has been the prefered choice, but rushing it wants to be avoided. However, each day that goes by it becomes less likely leagues will be finished as, otherwise, it would hurt the next season’s calendar.
European Football Federations have also been discussing other alternatives to conclude the season such as small knockout stages to settle championship, european qualification and demotion & promotion. The main argument for such decision other than canceling is to give clubs the right to earn such based on sporting merits. Sports are unpredictable, anything can happen, and with around 8 matches left to be played the current table should never be taken as the permanent one.
But now that leagues are restarting or are in the final negotiations to restart people might think the crisis is all over. The thing is, they are forgetting the financial repercussions. Not only are clubs not receiving any revenue from ticket sales, but the TV rights for broadcasting the games are at stake, and it represents a major source of revenue.
In Germany the television broadcaster Sky Deutschland failed to make a payment of 304 million euros to the German Football Federation. According to Kicker, up to 13 clubs could face insolvency problems because of this. Similarly, in Italy, the TV rights value of the matches suspended amount to 315 million euros and is at risk of not being paid on time. And this is only the beginning, the severity of the situation will be seen in a couple of months when sponsorship deals are renegotiated.
Aside from everything else, it is great to see solidarity in the sport. A.S. Roma players and coaches agreed to forgo their salary of four months to help the finances of the club, which was hit particularly hard. Borussia Dortmund’s captain, Marco Reus announced a donation of 500.000 euros to help local businesses. And hundreds of other similar acts have taken place.
Lower-division clubs are even innovating and breaking world records. In Germany, fourth division tier Lokomotive Leipzig set a record of the highest match attendance in the history of the sport with over 150.000 tickets sold. No match was played, but for 1 euro a ticket the revenue collected from thousands of supporters helped the club deal with losses.