Small soccer teams take big financial hit because of virus

LONDON (AP) — Every empty seat in a Premier League stadium represents a visual reminder of the financial struggle many soccer teams are facing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

For the smaller teams, those without TV contracts and huge fan bases, those empty seats can be devastating.

“We’re in a tough place,” Hanwell Town commercial manager Nigel Hunt said of the impact on his semi-pro club in west London. “Ticket receipts and sales of food and drinks at halftime are a crucial element of our income.”

A report released Monday says 10% of grassroots soccer clubs in Britain face closure because of the financial effects of the pandemic.

According to the “State of Play” report, the smallest clubs in the country have lost an average of 46% of their income. The economic fallout has also hurt families, with 20% of parents surveyed saying they can’t afford to send their child back to their club.

In May during an an online panel discussion hosted by the International Centre for Sports Studies at the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland, Lokomotiva Zagreb director Dennis Gudasic said “the biggest threat to club football in the coming six months is going to be the survival of smaller clubs.”

Although the Premier League and other professional leagues in England completed their seasons despite the ongoing restrictions related to the pandemic, Hanwell Town’s final games in the 2019-20 season were canceled.

That decision not only stopped the games, it also stopped the income.

“The COVID crisis hit just as gate receipts were increasing,” Hunt said. “We were top of the league and in the running for promotion when lockdown hit.”

Some clubs have been much more fortunate, however. Chertsey Town, for instance, won the FA Vase trophy in 2019 — a national cup competition for semi-pro teams — and secured 30,000 pounds ($38,000) in prize money. A huge amount for a small club, and a lifeline in these hard times.

“The pandemic hasn’t affected us as much as one might think,” Chertsey Town director Dave Raynor said. “We are very lucky to be financially stable at this point in time.”

Financially secure is one thing, but keeping players healthy and virus-free is another.

“It’s pretty impossible to say our players are in a bubble as non-league players all have jobs, families and lives outside the club,” Raynor said. “But so far no one’s tested positive in Chertsey Town and we’re keeping our finger’s crossed.”

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