Premier League chief defends clubs who furlough staff as he paints a bleak financial picture

Some Premier League clubs face the “very real threat” of going bust, the organisation’s chief executive Richard Masters has warned, as English football braces itself for “unprecedented” losses due to the coronavirus crisis.

Tuesday, 7th April 2020, 8:01 pm

Masters revealed the seriousness of the financial situation facing even those at the highest level of the game in a letter to the House of Commons select committee for culture, media and sport, which also saw him defend the practice of placing staff on furlough; arguing those PL members who have done so were acting with “restraint.”

With the fixture calendar suspended indefinitely due to the pandemic, it has been estimated that the country’s leading 20 teams, including Sheffield United, will face combined losses of more than £1bn if the season fails to be completed.

Although they have pledged to try and fulfil the schedule - Chris Wilder’s side were seventh in the table when the shutdown was announced - Masters said: “It is important to recognise that these decisions need to be taken with the short, medium and long term all in mind.

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“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.”

Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle, AFC Bournemouth and Norwich City have applied to take advantage of a government scheme, which covers 80 per cent of an employee’s wages up to £2,500, after furloughing members of their workforce in recent weeks. Liverpool announced they would be following suit before reversing that decision in the face of fierce public criticism.

United, who could lose more than £40m if the campaign is abandoned, are also set to furlough a small number of staff unable to perform their day to day roles during the break in competition.

File photo dated 25-02-2020 of Richard Masters (centre) Chief Executive of the Premier league. PA Photo. Issue date: Tuesday April 7, 2020. The pandemic could cost the Premier League and its clubs “at least £1billion”, the league’s chief executive Richard Masters has said. See PA story SPORT Coronavirus. Photo credit should read Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

Letters, informing those affected, were delivered by post on Tuesday morning. But The Star has since discovered that United, who have pledged they will continue to be remunerated in full, are now investigating the possibility of not using the worker retention scheme. Instead, they would simply grant them a leave of absence, which would allow those on both full-time and casual contracts to undertake voluntary work should they wish.

Responding to claims from some MP’s that the scheme, which is essentially being funded by the taxpayer, had not been designed for use by PL clubs, Masters wrote: “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.”

“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.”

Speaking earlier this week, Burnley chairman Mike Garlick admitted the coffers at Turf Moor will run dry by August if matches do not restart before then.

Greg Clarke, Garlick’s counterpart at the FA, painted a similarly bleak picture during a meeting of the governing body’s council.

Acknowledging that “many communities could lose the clubs at their heart with little chance of resurrection” because of the losses they face, he said: "In the face of this unprecedented adversity, all the stakeholders within the game from players, fans, clubs, owners and administrators need to step up and share the pain to keep the game alive.

"It is time for the stakeholders to agree common cause to save our game. Contribute. Football is a team game and now is the time for teamwork."