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Brighton CEO Paul Barber aware of need to adapt to playing behind closed doors

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Brighton and Hove Albion – Premier League – Molineux
(Image credit: Nick Potts)

Brighton chief executive Paul Barber says clubs are going to have to adapt to the concept of playing behind closed doors for a long period of time, but is concerned about the repercussions.

With Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty suggesting on Wednesday that some social distancing measures could remain in place for the rest of 2020 as the country tries to get to grips with coronavirus, the prospect of playing football matches in front of a crowd diminished further.

It is widely accepted that if the current Premier League season is to be completed it will be behind closed doors, though there are increasing hurdles to overcome for that to happen, with regards to player testing and TV rights.

Brighton fans may not be able to attend games when the Premier League returns

Brighton fans may not be able to attend games when the Premier League returns (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Hopes of starting next season in front of a crowd are fading, which could have severe consequences for clubs up and down the country.

Barber said: “It’s going to be very difficult to play Premier League football behind closed doors.

“It’s going to be very difficult for football clubs right the way through the pyramid to not have the benefit of the matchday income that we all rely on. And the lower down the pyramid you go, where the broadcast income is less significant, the matchday income, by definition, is more significant.

“So, I must admit it concerns me hugely for football as a whole, for the industry as a whole. I think that it will put many clubs in a very, very difficult financial position.

“But it’s something, by the sounds of it, we are going to have to find a way of adapting to, not just commercially but also from a sporting point of view as well.

Paul Barber is aware of the issues clubs could face

Paul Barber is aware of the issues clubs could face (Gareth Fuller/PA)

“The players are going to have to get used to it. But, again, every week that goes by, every month that goes by, we get more information and we process that information, we start to adapt to the new environment that we’re facing, and I daresay that, once again, we will process this information and start to think about our plans and how we adapt to it.”

For football to resume even behind closed doors it is going to take the players to be regularly tested and train and play in a controlled environment.

With some NHS frontline staff and key workers still unable to get tested that seems a long way off and Seagulls boss Graham Potter says footballers should be down the list.

“People are looking at what’s happening in other countries and thinking that it can just be transferred across to here,” he said.

“We’re in a situation far behind other countries when it comes to testing. So, I think footballers and the footballers that I know wouldn’t be comfortable if they’re getting tested and key workers, frontline people in the NHS, aren’t getting the adequate testing.

Graham Potter does not want football rushed back before it is safe

Graham Potter does not want football rushed back before it is safe (Nick Potts/PA)

“But, of course, if we get to the point where we can test the nation, we can test people that need it more so than footballers and we get to that point then I’m sure footballers will be happy with that.

“But not until it’s the right thing to do for the country and the overall health of the country.”

If play can get going behind closed doors, it will present the opportunity for live sport to return to television and there have been calls for some matches to appear on free-to-air channels so more people can watch them.

But Barber reckons Sky Sports and BT, who pay millions a year for rights, might have something to say about that.

He added: “We have got to be mindful that the largest part of our income comes from our broadcast partners. I would expected Premier League will make sure the main broadcast partners in the UK and overseas are properly protected should the rights to games be extended beyond the normal time.

Sky Sports are one of the Premier League's broadcasters

Sky Sports are one of the Premier League’s broadcasters (Owen Humphreys/PA)

“But certainly if we are playing behind closed doors then we would want as many of our fans to see the games, that is for sure.

“And that if it came at the right time it would give a little lift to people, if they got the opportunity to watch live sport again after such a long time that might be a positive.

“But as we have said before that can only happen when it is safe for everyone and when the Government give us that opportunity to do so.”

Meanwhile, Barber has confirmed that talks between the club and the players, led by Lewis Dunk and Glenn Murray, are still ongoing regarding a salary cut.