MILAN: European football teams face losing up to $10 billion due to disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to the latest forecast of the umbrella organisation for clubs on the continent.

Supporters have been kept out of stadiums in Europe’s main leagues longer than anticipated as the second wave of Covid-19 cases has devastated the continent.

Andrea Agnelli, the Juventus chairman who leads the European Club Association, said it would be extremely difficult” to see spectators being allowed back in this season. There have also been rebates to broadcasters and sponsors due to the pandemic after some leagues, including France, were abandoned last season and others paused for up to three months.

“When I look at the best information I’ve had so far, were looking at a bottom-line loss for the industry in the region of 6.5 billion Euros ($7.9 billion) to 8.5 billion Euros ($10.3 billion) for the combined two years,” Agnelli said at the virtual Think Sport 2021, the annual conference event organised by the business intelligence agency News Tank Football.

Italy, like England, had brought a small number of fans back into some stadiums but had to prohibit access again as part of a national effort to contain the resurgence of coronavirus cases. There are concerns about the financial impact on the value of broadcast rights to games.

About 360 clubs [in Europe] will need cash injections, whether its debt or equity within those two years, for an amount of 6 billion Euros ($7.2 billion),” Agnelli said.

Just as the ECA is in talks with UEFA about the distribution of Champions League revenue, Agnelli is painting a gloomier picture of the state of club finances than Deloitte. The accountancy firm reported this week that the top 20 revenue-generating clubs lost around 1.1 billion Euros ($1.3 billion) last season and their turnover could drop by 2 billion Euros ($2.4 billion) in this campaign.

Agnelli said that Deloitte’s prediction on Tuesday of losses in revenue had under-estimated the impact of a full season without fans in stadiums.

“Two cycles have been fully impacted. I have seen the Deloitte study... I was looking at data from the top 20 clubs whereby we had a 1.1 billion hit in the 19/20 season and the estimate for those 20 clubs alone at 2 billion hit for the combined two years,” he said.

Agnelli has been a central figure in discussions about the reform of UEFA’s flagship Champions League from 2024 onwards.

Talks have included the possibility of more matches and more guaranteed qualification for the very biggest clubs, with reports late last year suggesting the new format could involve a so-called “Swiss system”, in which all sides compete in one league and play 10 different opponents.

The reforms would be to the benefit of the elite few, like Juventus, who have won the last nine Italian titles and were ranked 10th in the Deloitte Money League with revenue last season of almost 400 million euros.

However, Agnelli did not directly address reports of a new breakaway, closed European Super League, instead appearing to toe the line set by UEFA of ensuring all clubs should have some access to the biggest competitions.

“We must keep the dream alive, which is one of the mantras of our history. Everything should be based on sporting merit, but we should remember where our fans of the future are. It is our strong view that more European matches are welcome,” he said.

“We have to tackle the issues of polarisation, of competitive balance and the lack of interest that is borne thereafter. I have read in various media that there are solutions that are being envisaged, like this so-called Swiss system...I think it’s a great system. I will want any and all reforms to go through the general assembly of the ECA with all clubs voting for whatever our collective future will be.”

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2021

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