English football - would the clubs survive a cancelled season?

Liverpool were coasting to a first league title in 30 years and suddenly, their season was paused. Why? The COVID-19 pandemic. Football across the globe was halted as the virus disrupted lives and jobs. But the effects of a cancelled season on English football could cause significant and irreparable damage.

The Premier League is officially postponed until 3rd April but it’s unlikely to restart. The EFL, earlier this week, issued a statement saying they hadn’t made any decisions about the next steps for their leagues (the Championship, League 1, and League 2). UEFA officially postponed Euro 2020 until the summer of 2021. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen. And that includes the clubs themselves.

But a cancelled season means millions of pounds lost. The bigger clubs can take the hit and it’ll sting but they won’t crumble like the smaller clubs will. Terrence Doyle of FiveThirtyEight investigated the effects on all English clubs if the season was cancelled and whether they’d recover from it. One interesting and alarming discover was the net revenue after wages were taken off:

Net of revenue minus wages for teams in the English Football Association's three highest levels, 2015-18

The Championship is the biggest second-tier league in the world but it clearly has money issues, not to mention the financial and quality gulf between the Premier League and the Championship. Promoted clubs have tended to get relegated within the first couple of seasons and some continue the freefall as they struggle to adapt. One of the biggest causes of this is less revenue and higher wages.

19 of the 24 clubs in the Championship have been in the top flight, with a few having spent time in League 1 and clubs like Bradford who’ve been up and down the leagues for years. Doyle suggested a season cancellation could cause serious ramifications for clubs with financial problems

The worst-case scenario in an EFL cancellation would be to wind up with another Bury F.C., albeit via very different circumstances. Bury was founded in 1885 and was a crucial part of the culture and economy in Bury, Greater Manchester. It had been a member of the EFL since 1894; it had won two FA Cups; it was on the upswing, having gained promotion from League Two to League One during its 2018-19 campaign. But financial difficulties and a period of toxic ownership led to its sudden expulsion from the EFL before the beginning of the 2019-20 season. Now a town is without its team, and a stadium meant for soccer sits void of any.

Bolton are the most likely candidates but it could happen to any club in the lower parts of the English football league pyramid. In the meantime, the EFL has created a £50m short-term relief fund to help clubs in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. How far that will go and what the future holds for the rest of the season is anyone’s guess.

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