00:57 GMT17 June 2021
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    With the UK Government postponing plans for football fans to return to stadiums in October, there are fears of a financial crisis that could see the collapse of the entire football pyramid system in England and the extinction of some of the oldest and most loved clubs in the country.

    We speak with Professor of Economics at Lancaster University, Robert Simmons to find out just how serious the financial crisis facing clubs is and is it time we started letting fans back in?

    Sputnik: As a result of the pandemic, just how serious is the financial crisis facing English football? And could we perhaps see the collapse of the English football pyramid as a result?

    Prof. Robert Simmons: It certainly is under threat. I mean, it's rather obvious, isn't it? If you've got no income coming in, because you can't have any crowds at your game you're not playing the games at all, then no income expenses still have to be made out to the players contract to be honoured, that kind of thing. Yes, there is a threat.

    Sputnik: Is it possible at all for football to survive without the fans and if not has the pandemic has taught us anything, has it shown us just how vital fans are?

    Prof. Robert Simmons: I think it does show fans are really important at the lower levels. I mean, the top level, the elite level Premier League and leagues like that, it is possible to survive because they have broadcasting income, you know, games are being played, they're being televised.

    So there are broadcast contracts, but it's in the lower leagues where that's not possible. Even if they set up a broadcast arrangement, it wouldn't generate the kind of revenues that you get in the Premier League. So it's for the teams lower down the pyramid that the real problems lie, I think.

    Sputnik: Is it time we followed the lead of German and French football and started trying to let fans back into grounds?

    Prof. Robert Simmons: That's a really difficult one, isn't it because safety protocols would have to be observed. I think we could learn a lot from the experiences elsewhere. Germany, Bundesliga, there are a few fans back in. Now, we don't know if there are any reports of any COVID infections out of that, but procedures seem to be quite rigorous there. But there's lots of ifs and buts. Certainly you couldn't have crowds back on the scale of previously.

    Sputnik: Why do you think it is that the financial crisis is hitting clubs in England, worse than mainland Europe? And is the England pyramid system sustainable, in its current model or do the changes now need to be made to it?

    Prof. Robert Simmons: That's a really good question. I mean, clearly the league's got a look at that. We have in this country, England, that is 72 professional clubs. And then there's a tier below that that's kind of also professional, the National League, and Scotland has a pyramid structure as well. So keeping that together is really difficult. And it's a bigger structure than you find in other countries

    Sputnik: Do you think there should be a government rescue package or should some of the wealth from the Premier League clubs be filtered down and used to help the smaller clubs?

    Prof. Robert Simmons: I think we're going to see both. The Premier League would be asked to help out but it's in their interest to actually, because if they've got a strong Football League underneath, and that stronger clubs are getting promoted into the Premier League, to have weak clubs coming up would not be good for the game at that level. So I think they've got an interest in doing that. The same time though, the UK Government has given out 1.6 billion pounds in donations to the art sector, subsidy to the arts. So not saying should be the exact same figure but some kind of relief help for the Football League, they seem to have a case there.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    football, England, United Kingdom, premier league, English Premier League
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