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Neil Doncaster: Clubs will struggle financially with games behind closed doors

Soccer – Scottish Communities League Cup – Semi Final – Dundee United v Aberdeen – Hampden Park
(Image credit: Jeff Holmes)

No Scottish club will escape “extreme” financial challenges if fans are locked out of grounds, Scottish Professional Football League chief executive Neil Doncaster has cautioned.

Doncaster’s warning came after an independent report predicted that insolvencies would be “inevitable” if games are played behind closed doors.

The Scottish Government has given gloomy forecasts for the prospect of mass gatherings resuming in the near future but Doncaster hopes to follow up on recent talks between Holyrood and sports bodies.

Doncaster told PLZ Soccer: “We shouldn’t underestimate at all the scale of the financial challenges that face all of our member clubs.

Scottish clubs are heavily reliant on gate receipts

Scottish clubs are heavily reliant on gate receipts (PA)

“Unlike some leagues around Europe that are very heavily based around broadcast income, our club revenues are far more based on revenues that come directly from fans and that’s largely through the turnstiles.

“We have made that clear to the Scottish Government. Broadcast income is very important but fundamentally, unless we start getting fans into our stadiums once again in the near future, then I do expect there to be extremely challenging times for all of our clubs.”

The Football Financial Distress Report, produced by corporate rescue firm Begbies Traynor, noted that Scottish football had achieved “unprecedented stability” by March this year with none of the 42 SPFL clubs showing symptoms of severe financial distress for a second year running.

However, the report added that the pandemic looks set to have “far-reaching consequences”.

St Johnstone's McDiarmid Park and other grounds are shut

St Johnstone’s McDiarmid Park and other grounds are shut (PA)

“Without much needed matchday revenues, or Government support in the event that the isolation measures are extended into the 2020/2021 season, it is believed that the majority of clubs in Scotland could face financial peril,” the report adds.

Report author Ken Pattullo said: “Our Scottish Premiership clubs are the most reliant on ticket sales of all the top-flight European clubs, which also makes them extremely vulnerable to escalating financial problems, especially if it is decreed that the remainder of the season is to be played, behind closed doors.

“While I don’t believe we are looking at a doomsday scenario and most Scottish clubs will survive, I’m afraid that some insolvencies are probably inevitable among the hardest hit clubs.

“Some clarity from the Scottish Government would be helpful now because, while in England the Premier League is in discussions about Project Restart, to resume playing televised matches behind closed doors, Scotland’s top-tier clubs seem to be nowhere near having a road map towards the resumption of any form of play, and meanwhile they remain in financially corrosive limbo.”

The Ladbrokes deal is in its final season

The Ladbrokes deal is in its final season (Jeff Holmes)

The financial situation is exacerbated by potential liabilities over television contracts plus the fact that the SPFL’s sponsorship deal with Ladbrokes is set to expire amid a backdrop of clubs protesting over recent votes and the failure of league reconstruction talks.

Doncaster said: “Certainly any division doesn’t help the central exploitation of sponsorship assets. But the reality is we are in a world that economies on mass are in real difficulty and the discretionary spend, things like sponsorship, are clearly under a lot of pressure.

“All of us are doing everything we can, that’s clubs and the league, to bring in whatever revenues we are able to, and that remains the case.”

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Meanwhile, Cricket Scotland has declared that no league or national cup competitions will take place this year.

The announcement comes after all cricket activity was suspended for a further month, until the end of June, with no domestic matches, including friendlies, anticipated to take place before August 1.

A statement added: “The Regional Associations will announce separately their intentions regarding regional cup competitions.

“In the hope that additional cricket matches can take place in August, Cricket Scotland and the Regional Associations in consultation with the clubs, will aim to create other friendly and, potentially, competitive fixture structures (most likely concentrating on the T20 format) in August and possibly September, depending on player, official and ground availability.”

The fate of international games scheduled for June and July against New Zealand, Australia, Nepal and Namibia will be confirmed in the coming weeks.