By J Hutcherson (Oct 6, 2020) US Soccer Players - Last week, something interesting happened as Mexico was getting ready to fly out for two games in the Netherlands. The Dutch government decided to take a step back from allowing fans into stadiums. For one of the leagues that called off its 2019-20 season rather than resuming, the return of fans so quickly was a surprising move. This Eredivisie season started with limited amounts of fans in league stadiums. That ended, for now, due to increases in positive coronavirus tests in the country.
"Naturally these measures will have negative economic consequences," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said. "But allowing the virus to flare up would have even bigger consequences, including damage to the economy."
That's a concise way of explaining what every country on the planet currently faces across the board. Though some US venues are allowing fans into stadiums, the bigger issue to the schedule is the health of teams. The National Football League had a postponement over the weekend due to positive tests. That follows the issues Major League Baseball had getting the games in across all of its markets. Major League Soccer had to push back a Colorado Rapids game for the same reason.
As Rutte said, economic damage is a priority. Regardless of what some might argue in the era of massive broadcast rights, professional sports still need gate receipts. That's an important part of their overall financial picture. It's also something that is becoming more of an issue in England's pyramid of soccer leagues.
From the Premier League on down, English clubs expected to start this season with limited numbers of fans. Instead, the British government decided that wasn't the safest way forward. The seasons started behind closed doors, with predictions of economic catastrophe looming, especially for smaller clubs. England has more of those than any country in Europe, with ticket sales making up a significant portion of their finances.
Considering the plight of the smaller clubs has become a rallying cry for those that are wondering what happens should this situation continue. Among those stressing that point are the leagues and the Football Association. On Tuesday, it was the Football Association released a statement on behalf of professional soccer.
"With the EFL, Premier League, Women's Super League and Women's Championship already staging eleven successful test events recently, we have demonstrated that we can deliver matches safely. The sooner we can return, the sooner we can reunite communities and support local jobs, livelihoods, regional businesses and also the national economy. We will continue to urge Government to allow us to return fans safely to stadiums. It is positive progress that major arts and music venues have been told they can run socially-distanced events indoors. And now football should be allowed to do the same - in highly regulated and stewarded outdoor environments."
As we've all experienced, reopening is a contentious issue in this pandemic era. Do it too soon, and it's a health risk as well as a disappointment. Wait too long, and it begins to feel like punishment rather than necessary precaution. English soccer is currently caught in the middle of the wider British government issues with the return of some kind of normal. They're far from the only ones asking a basic question that goes beyond economics.
"We are determined to identify a path forward with Government," the FA statement concludes. "We need clarity for our clubs and for you as supporters as to what the roadmap for change in this area looks like. We all know why caution is needed, and we ask Government for consistency in their policy so sport is treated as fairly as other activities currently allowed to welcome spectators. So, we will continue to urge the relevant authorities to let us, together, use innovative ways to bring fans safely back into football grounds, starting with a return of the test event programme. If we do so, then the benefits will be felt not just by fans but throughout society and the economy."
Maybe, but in practical terms, it wouldn't be out of the realm of experience that professional sports slots itself higher up the list than it deserves. UEFA is also advocating for 30% capacity for Champions League and Europa League games. In too many places, that seems like a reach now and into the immediate future. There's certainly such a thing as asking too much. Right now, the whole of European soccer may be doing just that.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- David Wagner moves on from interesting times at Schalke 04
- UEFA's Super Cup
- Atlanta United regroups without Pity Martinez
- Waiting on the Leagues Cup
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