Football Spectator Attendance: Covid-19 — [Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:48 pm on 9th November 2020.

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Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation 4:48 pm, 9th November 2020

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis. I am most impressed that he managed to get Bovril into his speech. Recently I visited my local football club, Solihull Moors—I draw colleagues’ attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—to see its preparations for behind-closed-doors matches, testing and, I hope, the return of spectators at matches soon.

Spectator sports are the beating heart of our communities and football clubs, in the national league, the EFL or any other tier, and a fundamental part of our national fabric. So many teams depend on ticket revenues and now find themselves in dire straits. If football bodies do not come together soon for the good of the game, there is a risk that 10, 12 or even 15 EFL clubs go bust. What is more, 10 EFL clubs are at risk of not making their November payroll. By comparison, just 17% of Chelsea’s revenue comes from ticket sales and, as we know, the Premier League has a £9 billion TV deal at the top of the game.

Nobody wants to see that happen, but I fear that we are not exploring all the options available to us that could not only allow spectators to return to football matches, but see other revenue-generating activities take place. Solihull Moors, for example, benefits significantly from selling hospitality and corporate packages, so it is not just a matter of bums on seats or even the equivalent of the prawn sandwich brigade, but of allowing all types of spectators to return to football stadiums.

The key to seeing fans return to football is not just reducing covid numbers but increasing our testing capacity. We need smart solutions: the expansion of rapid testing, temperature checks, deep cleaning and social distancing. Venues can never be 100% covid-secure, but they are doing all that they can, and there is always risk in life.

I have heard from clubs up and down the country. They have invested significant sums in getting covid ready. Over the summer, my Committee heard from Prenetics, a testing company that works extensively with sports teams to ensure they can return to matches behind closed doors. Now it and other testing providers are looking at how rapid testing can be used to even greater effect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North said that football was being treated differently from the arts. I understand that, but I will make certain points in the brief time that I have. First, no arts organisation that I know runs on player wages with 108% of turnover. No arts or cultural organisation that I know has a £9 billion TV deal. Also, such organisations have not just spent £1.2 billion in a transfer window. The National Theatre puts its stuff up for free on YouTube. The Premier League voted 19 to 1 to put pay-per-view TV at £14.95, perhaps encouraging people to go to one another’s houses. The money is there in the game. It would be an absurdity for taxpayer money to bail out those clubs. They have to come together now.