Top flight to agree £250m EFL bail-out

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Ben Rumsby, Sam Wal­lace, Ja­son Burt and Jeremy Wil­son

➤ Take-it-or-leave-it of­fer to come with strict con­di­tions

➤ Res­cue pack­age lim­ited to un­der­writ­ing lost gate re­ceipts

Premier League clubs were re­signed last night to hav­ing to bail out the English Football League – but with strings at­tached.

Mem­bers of the world’s rich­est league were ex­pected to im­pose strict con­di­tions on a sup­port pack­age to their lower-league coun­ter­parts worth up to £250mil­lion.

They are pre­pared to make a take-it-or-leave-it of­fer af­ter the Gov­ern­ment made clear it would not be res­cu­ing the pro­fes­sional game from col­lapse fol­low­ing the coro­n­avirus cri­sis.

Premier League clubs had been hold­ing off agree­ing to un­der­write losses of up to £22mil­lion a month be­ing posted by EFL sides un­til af­ter the planned re­turn of crowds to the game a week to­day, in the hope both com­pe­ti­tions could start gen­er­at­ing some ticket rev­enue.

But Boris John­son de­stroyed those plans on Tues­day by an­nounc­ing a new wave of lock­down re­stric­tions that could force pro­fes­sional and semi-pro­fes­sional football be­hind closed doors for another six months. The Prime Min­is­ter and his cabi­net are de­ter­mined to hold the Premier League to one of the con­di­tions of the com­pe­ti­tion re­sum­ing this sum­mer un­der Project Restart, af­ter football was sus­pended in March, which was its clubs sup­port­ing the wider football fam­ily.

Those clubs, who have al­ready made some con­tri­bu­tion to that ef­fect de­spite los­ing mil­lions of pounds a week them­selves, are now re­luc­tantly ready to go fur­ther by bail­ing out the lower leagues.

How­ever, any res­cue pack­age is likely to be lim­ited to un­der­writ­ing lost gate re­ceipts, with EFL clubs need­ing to pro­vide clear ev­i­dence to that ef­fect.

Premier League clubs have no in­ten­tion of bail­ing out teams al­ready at risk of go­ing bust be­fore the pan­demic due to poor own­er­ship or other self-in­flicted is­sues.

The league also wants the EFL to agree to sup­port some of its own strate­gic ob­jec­tives in ex­change for the cash, in­clud­ing on post-Brexit quo­tas on over­seas play­ers and on its yet-to-be-agreed cur­tail­ment rules.

EFL chair­man Rick Parry has been re­sist­ing these lat­ter con­di­tions dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions over a res­cue pack­age, but may be forced to ac­cept them if he wants the cash, with gov­ern­ment sources telling

The Daily Tele­graph it has no in­ten­tion of dic­tat­ing what terms are ap­plied to any bail-out.

The EFL has been exploring tak­ing out a com­mer­cial loan, but clubs told The Tele­graph yes­ter­day bor­row­ing money would sim­ply de­lay their demise.

Parry has al­ready said teams could go bust by Christ­mas and he re­it­er­ated the ur­gency of a bail-out yes­ter­day in a state­ment ques­tion­ing the Gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to scrap the re­turn of fans.

“Of course we recog­nise that the

UK is fac­ing a sig­nif­i­cant pub­lic health cri­sis and that sport has to play its part in help­ing the Gov­ern­ment man­age the spread of the virus at this dif­fi­cult time,” he said.

“This is why over many months we have helped the Gov­ern­ment de­vise, re­fine and pi­lot strin­gent sta­dium pro­to­cols de­signed to keep sup­port­ers safe. Stag­ing pro­fes­sional football matches is one of the most heav­ily reg­u­lated ar­eas of crowd man­age­ment and any sup­port­ers at­tend­ing EFL fix­tures, in vastly re­duced num­bers, would have been re­quired to ad­here to so­cial dis­tanc­ing and the rule of six.

“There­fore we are deeply frus­trated that we will not be able to con­tinue this work and, in do­ing so, gather the ev­i­dence to show that crowds can re­turn safely to football and be­come an im­por­tant fi­nan­cial life­line for our clubs. There­fore, as a mat­ter of ur­gency, we now need to un­der­stand what the Gov­ern­ment’s road map is for get­ting sup­port­ers back into sta­di­ums as soon as it is deemed safe.

“With ex­tended mea­sures in­tro­duced, it is im­per­a­tive that the fi­nan­cial is­sues fac­ing our clubs are ad­dressed quickly. EFL clubs lost £50mil­lion last sea­son as a re­sult of play­ing matches be­hind closed doors or cur­tail­ing the sea­son and stand to lose a fur­ther £200mil­lion in 2020-21 should we be re­quired to play the whole sea­son with­out fans in grounds.

“I am en­cour­aged the Gov­ern­ment has recog­nised the need for ur­gent fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance for sport and dis­cus­sions will con­tinue with the DCMS and Premier League.”

Yes­ter­day also saw the com­mu­nity leisure sec­tor urge the Gov­ern­ment to fast-track im­me­di­ate fi­nan­cial help while the Premier

League and EFL con­tinue to thrash out a deal. Around one third of pub­lic gyms, leisure cen­tres and swim­ming pools have been un­able to re­open since Covid-19 re­stric­tions were eased in July be­cause of lost rev­enues dur­ing the ini­tial lock­down and on­go­ing re­stric­tions on num­bers. Around 6,000 per­ma­nent and ca­sual staff have lost their jobs and, hav­ing first asked for gov­ern­ment sup­port last month, nu­mer­ous fa­cil­i­ties are at risk of per­ma­nent clo­sure in the com­ing weeks.

“That’s im­pact­ing com­mu­ni­ties across the whole coun­try, and that is im­pact­ing the health of those com­mu­ni­ties – there is a real ur­gency there now and we humbly en­cour­age the Gov­ern­ment to find res­o­lu­tion,” said Huw Ed­wards, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Ukac­tive, which rep­re­sents pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor gyms and leisure cen­tres.

Sport Eng­land re­search re­cently found that, for ev­ery £1 in­vested in com­mu­nity phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, there was a re­turn of £4 in im­proved health and so­cial in­comes.

Ed­wards is ar­gu­ing for a pack­age that not only in­cludes core fund­ing, but which could also en­com­pass stim­u­lus like VAT cuts, an ex­ten­sion of busi­ness rates re­lief and ini­tia­tives such as ex­tend­ing the Cy­cle to Work scheme to in­clude gym mem­ber­ship or equip­ment.

He is also adamant that there is an over­whelm­ing eco­nomic, as well as health and so­cial case, for the re­quest.

“There is no trade-off be­tween health and the econ­omy when it comes to in­vest­ing in our sec­tor,” he said. “You are mak­ing sav­ings across health­care, across so­cial care, a mas­sive im­pact on ma­jor NHS is­sues like di­a­betes and de­men­tia, and you are re­duc­ing tens of mil­lions of GP vis­its. Where are you go­ing to find a sec­tor that bridges that phys­i­cal, men­tal and so­cial well-be­ing agenda so em­phat­i­cally? There is such po­ten­tial but, to pro­vide those so­lu­tions, we need to sur­vive.”

‘There is no trade-off be­tween health and the econ­omy when it comes to in­vest­ing in leisure’

Un­der pres­sure: EFL chief ex­ec­u­tive Rick Parry

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