Sport

Covid-19 leads to mass shutdown

2020-03-15 18:16

Fans of VfL Bochum have been able to buy tickets for their side’s second Bundesliga match against Heidenheim for a cheap €5 (R90).

There is, of course, a slight drawback to buying a ticket at that price – the view on that side of the pitch is severely restricted. But the more expensive tickets (€8.58) have a similarly restricted view.

There is, however, a completely understandable explanation for the fact that the pitch is hard to see – the club is selling tickets to a match that is being played behind closed doors.

The club this week said it was just reacting to the wishes of their fans: “Many of our fans wanted to support the club and to purchase so-called ghost game tickets. We are very happy about this encouragement and have reacted accordingly.”

Bochum’s match is one of hundreds that have been affected by the Covid-19 coronavirus, which has disrupted the world of sports, as ever more leagues, tournaments and competitions get suspended or cancelled.

But what is an irritation or a disappointment for fans is a huge financial problem for clubs, leagues and federations.

Professional sport has long been part of the entertainment industry and, like a good Hollywood movie or a famous musician, tens of millions in revenue is involved, so any decision to postpone or cancel events is not made lightly as the repercussions go far beyond the sport.

The scale of the disruptions caused by the virus is unprecedented and, as such, has taken sport into uncharted waters as nobody on board knows how to steer the ship into a safe harbour.

Covid-19 causes chaos in sport

Television companies that have paid literally billions for various sports broadcasts are losing out as viewers are changing the channel instead of watching matches without fans. Federations and leagues have to decide whether to suspend or even cancel whole leagues. So what happens to the TV contracts?

Any decision to cancel a league match or tournament has serious ramifications and will most likely be followed by legal action.

LEAGUE SUSPENDED

On Friday, the English Premier League finally bowed to pressure and announced they were suspending matches for three weeks amid reports of other leagues in Europe taking similar precautions.

Uefa also announced that all Champions League and Europa League matches scheduled for next week had been postponed.

Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta and Chelsea star Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive for the deadly virus this week, although both are reportedly recovering well.

Also on Friday, Everton and Bournemouth joined Chelsea, Arsenal, Leicester and Watford in putting their squads into self-isolation.

WHAT IF

If, for instance, the Premier League was to be called off completely, what would happen to the three clubs currently occupying the relegation zone?

They would, quite justifiably, be able to argue that many teams had escaped relegation by winning their last games, while teams in the league below could claim that their promotion chances had been curtailed.

This is something that those running the German Bundesliga have taken into consideration. The Bundesliga this week said it needed to finish the regular season by the northern hemisphere’s summer.

“The clubs that have been promoted and relegated need to be identified. We need to know which clubs have qualified for international competition. This is the only way for clubs and the Bundesliga to have planning security for the coming season despite difficult circumstances, for example, with a view to player contracts that are only valid for one league,” it said.

The Bundesliga is, however, already making contingency plans for clubs that experience financial difficulties as a result of matches being cancelled or played behind closed doors.

“We are examining the possibility of adapting the licensing procedure for the 2020/21 season to take financial disadvantages due to the effects of the coronavirus into account. In addition, the Bundesliga is examining the possibility of changing the dates when shared income is disbursed to relieve clubs in the event of possible financial problems.”

Like football, the National Basketball League in the US is involved in billion-dollar TV contracts, so when the NBA announced on Wednesday that it was calling off all matches without giving any indication of when they would resume, the statement caused more of a tsunami than a ripple.

Golden State Warriors owner and chief executive Joe Lacob said that the economic impact of the virus on sport – and all spheres of life – was monumental.

“We just lost virtually all of our revenues for the foreseeable future. But we have huge expenses that aren’t going away. I feel for these part-time employees, local restaurants, Uber drivers and all of the service people that make their living in and around events such as ours,” Lacob said.


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March 29 2020