League of Ireland clubs suffer the corona costs

by Dave Donnelly

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar spoke of the “calm before the storm, before the surge” as the slow uptick of Covid-19 cases is set to accelerate in the coming days and weeks.

Sport may seem trivial by comparison, but League of Ireland clubs are preparing themselves for arguably the biggest collective challenge they’ve ever faced.

Just as the shutting of pubs and restaurants threaten to permanently close some, so the suspension of football to at least March 29 threatens many of our nation’s oldest sporting institutions.

Bills have to be covered, grounds have to be maintained and wages have to be paid at clubs which are unique in Europe in that they are almost solely dependant on matchday receipts for income.

A recent UEFA report revealed that just 1% of League of Ireland’s club revenue is derived from television and, at 28%, are the most dependant on TV revenue of all Europe’s 55 leagues.

The healthy and safety of everybody from players and staff to fans is paramount, clubs across codes have had to look at creative ways to save jobs and, potentially, save themselves as viable concerns.

“Our highest priority is keeping everyone healthy,” Gavin White, media officer at Shelbourne, told Dublin Gazette.

“You see it in England; you see it in Italy; you saw five coaching staff of Valencia testing positive for the virus.

“The only thing that matters is that the players, the coaching staff, the academy and coaches from the men’s and women’s side are all safe.”

However, there is a very real chance that some clubs, not just in the League of Ireland but in other sports, may go bust like other business during this indefinite period of uncertainty.

The likes of Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk may be the wealthiest clubs in the league but both have commensurately high costs of running to maintain.

However, it’s the likes of Shelbourne, who must have imagined their return to the Premier Division after seven years would pose many challenges but not these, who have the most difficult job.

Group training for children, men and women has been suspended indefinitely as social distancing is enforced, and it may be months until things get back to normal.

White is working with the club on ways to bring in cash in the short-term, with merchandise, auctions and collaborations with Reds Creative, the club’s artistic community, possibilities.

“In an ideal world, the fixtures come back when they’re meant to, but it’s hard to know whether that will be the case and it’s very likely that it won’t be the case.

“It’s come at a really weird time for us because everything was so positive. We’d three sold-out games in a row. Bohs was our first live [TV] game, and this has kind of halted it again.

“It’s the same thing affecting all the clubs. We don’t know what’s really going to happen, and that’s the scary thing. Nobody really knows what the certainties are in this situation.

“It’s not as if you’re going into a pre-season that’s five months and going ‘ok, we budgeted for those five months’.

“We’ve been away for seven years so we know what the bottom looks like in the footballing sphere, but I think there’s a great feeling in the club that we can come through it,” he said.

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