What do you do when all the sporting events that you enjoy are either postponed or cancelled? When you have wondered whether Rafa Nadal would make it thirteen French Open titles or if Roger Federer would win another Wimbledon title. For the first time since World War II, the Rolls Royce of the grass court season has been cancelled. Such is the catastrophic effect of the coronavirus (COVID-19.) Unless you’re an Anfield faithful, you might have planned an end-of-season TV boycott to avoid watching Liverpool FC celebrate winning the Premier League. The Edo 2020 National Sports Festival that the state had been preparing so well for has been postponed. The first post-Usain Bolt Olympics was supposed to throw up some new sprint talent; fans were already on Google searching for hotels in Tokyo. The games have now been rescheduled to 2021. The football calendar, like many other sports calendars, has become one of the many casualties of the coronavirus crisis. No sport has been spared, and we are in uncharted waters. There is no live sport whatsoever available anywhere in the world. The implications will be far-reaching. Sports entertain while also bringing together communities, uniting people of diverse backgrounds and creating millions of jobs. When this is taken away, there is a vacuum.
Away from what fans are missing, and the delight at the torture Liverpool FC will feel before putting their hands on the Premier League trophy, thirty years after winning it in the old-format league, we need to spare a thought for those that will be affected by the disruption and what it will mean once we have won the battle to curtail the coronavirus. Away from the light-hearted jokes about virtual F1 and FIFA 20 league competitions is the serious stuff. The social and economic fallout will last for years to come.
Using the football value chain as a quick case study, we can begin to see the effects. We can estimate the potential loss of TV revenue at £750m; top premier league clubs might average just under £100m in annual gate receipts but this will no longer be realised; jersey and other merchandise sales in multiple millions across all leagues will be lost; the transfer market is shot to pieces. This is just the beginning and it only tells part of the story. Many do not empathise. After all, footballers earn millions and live privileged lifestyles, therefore they are better able to withstand an economic downturn, right? Not entirely fair. Apart from the fact that they have also had their livelihoods temporarily taken away from them, the training and discipline of the previous months made redundant, the adverse effect across the football world is huge. There are millions of people behind the scenes who oil the wheels of the football ecosystem. Ground staff at the stadium, caterers and other service providers have had their income yanked from under them without warning. The printers of the matchday programme, microentrepreneurs dependent on matchday revenue, the transport providers, all of these and many more will be impacted.
Viewing centres that are so popular in Nigeria, pubs in the UK and bars across Europe will feel the hit. Where matchday revenue from the viewing centre might mean an extra meal or school supplies paid for a child, the devastation that COVID-19 is causing makes for sobering headlines. A record 6.6m Americans have filed for unemployment benefit, a 2,240% increase from pre-COVID-19 peaks. Unfortunately, there are indications that this figure will increase. The Belgian Pro League has been cancelled; many football clubs have put their workforce on furlough; the Uruguay FA has laid off hundreds of its staff, and on and on. Experts predict a global recession worse than in 2009.
In seeking solutions, individual sports stars have donated millions to support relief efforts during this COVID-19 crisis, Lionel Messi, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Pep Guardiola, Marcus Rashford to name a few. Bayern Munich, Juventus, Espanyol and Barcelona footballers have taken up to 70% pay cuts. Other clubs are asking players to defer their wages. The National Health Service is to use Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium and the India Cricket Board has donated $6.8m to help the cause.
These are commendable as a first response. Once the health crisis is over, the second phase of the recovery must begin. Broadcasters will face financial challenges that will have an impact on how much funds are available for sports post-COVID. Calendars will have to be hastily rescheduled. Contracts will have to be renegotiated. Some smaller sporting outfits might cease to exist. Just as there are stimulus packages being planned for various industries, there might be a need to help the sports sector recover from the current setback.
In summary, apart from clubs, players, and other line staff, people who make a living by operating viewing centres, including MultiChoice, in this part of the world, will continue to count their losses, except we find an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lande is Executive Secretary, Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria