Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has warned it is “critical” to get fans back into stadiums soon, but a spike in coronavirus cases has forced the British government to review plans to reopen venues from October 1.
The Premier League was forced to finish last season with the final 92 matches played behind closed doors after the coronavirus lockdown. When the 2020–21 Premier League season kicks off this Saturday, stadiums around England will remain empty in the stands due to the continued threat of the pandemic
Brighton hosted 2,500 fans for their recent pre-season friendly against Chelsea, while Arsenal’s Premier League home match against Sheffield United on October 3 was earmarked for a potential reduced-capacity test event.
Fearing potential losses of 700 million pounds ($910 million), Richard Masters said it is essential for the financial health of English football that supporters are able to return soon.
“We have to get back to fans inside stadia as quickly as possible – that’s the big thing that’s missing, economic or otherwise – we need fans back inside stadiums for all sorts of reasons and it’s the number one priority,” Richard Masters told Fremer Media.
“I think perhaps there is a perception the Premier League economy can withstand just about anything, but if you do lose £700m out of a planned budget it’s going to affect things and clubs have had to make some very difficult decisions.”
However, an increase in the number of virus cases has forced the government to ban gatherings of more than six people from Monday.
“Bumps in the road”
“At the present time we must also I am afraid revise plans to pilot larger audiences in venues later this month and review our intention to return audiences to stadiums and conference centres from October 1,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a press conference on Wednesday.
“But that doesn’t mean we are going to scrap the programme entirely, we are just going to have to review it and abridge it.”
It has been reported pilot events which have already been arranged to test the safe return of spectators will be limited to a maximum of 1,000 people with social distancing measures in place.
Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said changes to the pilot plans would be announced shortly, with the long-term aim now to have larger crowds by Christmas.
“Further to the PM’s announcement we are reviewing the list of proposed sports pilots ahead of 1 Oct, in light of the increased number of cases. Details of changes will be announced shortly,” Dowden wrote on Twitter.
“We are keeping under review further easements proposed from 1 Oct but no changes have been announced today and we continue to plan for the best.
“As I said on Sunday and the PM confirmed today, work continues round the clock on the moonshot project with the ambition of having audiences back much closer to normal by Christmas.”
Richard Masters admitted the Premier League never expected the path back to full stadiums to be a smooth ride.
“We wait to see what the government decides and we’ll remain in dialogue with them throughout,” he said.
“We always knew September was going to be a difficult month at the start of the return to normality the government was talking about, and so we should anticipate bumps in the road.”
Richard Masters is the current Chief Executive of the highest tier of association football in England, the Premier League, a position he has held since his permanent appointment in December 2019, following an interim period in the role from November 2018.
The 2020–21 Premier League will be the 29th season of the Premier League, the top English professional league for association football clubs since its establishment in 1992. Liverpool are the defending champions, having won their nineteenth league title the previous season, their first in the Premier League era. The season was initially scheduled to start on 8 August, but this was delayed until 12 September as a consequence of the postponement of the previous season’s conclusion due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was scheduled to be the second Premier League season to have a mid-season break in February, whereby five games of a normal round of ten would be played on one weekend and the remaining five the following weekend.However, due to the late start of the league and fixture congestion, the winter break was scrapped.It will also be the second Premier League season to use VAR. As was the case at the end of the previous season, there will be limited or no attendance from fans in the stadiums besides each team’s staff and personnel.
Twenty teams will compete in the league – the top seventeen teams from the previous season and the three teams promoted from the Championship. The promoted teams are Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion and Fulham, after respective top flight absences of sixteen years, two years and one year. They will replace Bournemouth, Watford (both teams relegated after five years in the top flight), and Norwich City (relegated after only a year back in the top flight).