The chief executive of the Premier League has defended the furloughing of staff, claiming clubs have been acting with “restraint” as he warned of a “very real threat” of some top-flight sides going bust in the face of the coronavirus crisis.
In a striking letter, sent to the select committee of the department of culture, media and sport, Richard Masters describes losses at an “unprecedented level” across top-flight English football and paints an uncertain future for the game. “Not only is our industry facing losses now,” he writes, “we must base our plans on full recovery being some distance away.”
Masters writes: “It is important to recognise that these decisions need to be taken with the short, medium and long term all in mind. Not only is our industry facing losses now, but to be realistic, we must also base our plans on full recovery being some distance away. Ultimately, the very heavy losses that we face will have to be dealt with or else clubs and other enterprises who depend on football for income will go out of business. We do not say this lightly, or to justify clubs’ decisions; it is a very real threat.”
Negotiations are continuing between Premier League clubs and their players over the possibility of deferring or cutting players wages. But four clubs – Newcastle, Tottenham, Bournemouth and Norwich – have applied to use the government’s furlough scheme for employees, a decision which has met with widespread public disapproval. On Monday Liverpool apologised and reversed a decision to furlough staff after fierce criticism.
“The furlough scheme announced by government is meant for the whole economy, including many enterprises which might be regarded as providing entertainment or otherwise dependent on elite talent,” Masters writes. “We do agree with you that restraint needs to be shown by all and we and our clubs are doing just that. Individual clubs will need to make these decisions based on their own forecasts as each club will have its own unique position.”
The chair of the DCMS committee, the Conservative MP Julian Knight, reacted to Masters’s letter in combative terms, saying: “It is frankly laughable to think that clubs are showing restraint on use of government money to pay non-playing staff and flies in the face of public opinion.”
More to follow