Returning fans may be more trouble than they're worth to some clubs

Returning fans may be more trouble than they're worth to some clubs

A view of an empty Páirc Uí Chaoimh ahead of the  Munster Senior Football Championship final between Cork and Tipperary.Will we see fans return before the GAA season ends? Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

NEWS that sports venues in England will see the return of fans, in limited circumstances, has raised our hopes that we too might get to see a return to some live action on this side of the Irish Sea.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced, to the House of Commons, that fans will be allowed back to watch live games once their national lockdown ends on December 2.

However, fans' anticipation of getting to see their heroes in the flesh again was tempered by the requirements that it will only happen depending on infection rates, the geographical areas of the stadiums, and on which tier each venue resides.

In Tier 1, the lowest category of restriction in England, 4,000 spectators or 50% of capacity for outdoor events will be allowed to attend, whichever is lower. While 2,000 or 50% of capacity can return for indoor events.

The second level Tier 2 will allow 2,000 spectators or 50% capacity outdoors, whichever is lower, and 1,000 or 50% of capacity indoors.

The highest level, Tier 3, will see the ban on all spectators remaining.

Johnson did warn though that, come the end of the lockdown, that it is likely that towns, cities and local authorities would be placed in higher tiers than before they went into lockdown.

So while Manchester United may become the first side to see 4000 fans return to Old Trafford for their Champions League encounter with PSG, their near-neighbours Liverpool may not have any fans at all at their matches, as Merseyside was already at a higher tier infection rate even before they went into lockdown.

An empty Old Trafford in Manchester. Will the ground be the first Premier League club to see a return of fans after lockdown? 
An empty Old Trafford in Manchester. Will the ground be the first Premier League club to see a return of fans after lockdown? 

Matchday fans will also likely be quite partisan, as strict rules on travelling between regions in different tiers will make it difficult for any fan to attend an away game.

One would assume that a return of their fanbase would be welcome news for the clubs of the Premier League. After all, they haven't seen spectators at their grounds since last March. But surprisingly, some have indicated that they might reject the chance to welcome fans back into their grounds next week due to concerns over cost and the absence of a roadmap towards full capacity crowds.

The requirements to provide added security, increased stewarding, and disinfecting control areas, while at the same time not been able to cash-in on any extras like food and drink sales, as well as merchandising, would see all 20 top-flight clubs lose significant sums money even if they admitted the maximum number of 4,000 fans, which is far from guaranteed.

It is estimated that at least 10,000 fans are required for a club to break even on a game that grows larger the bigger the stadium.

There may be pressure, however, on the cubs to reward the long-suffering fans a chance to return to enjoy the live game experience but without alcohol on sale at the venue and controls on congregating and singing, one wonders will it be as enjoyable an experience as it was pre-pandemic anyway.

The Premier League clubs are desperate to see if the British government will enlighten them into how soon they will get back to a full reopening of their stadiums to their fans. If the status quo remains and they are left without any clear pathway to full attendance, then they may not be so keen to open in a piecemeal manner.

Sporting authorities here in Ireland will be closely looking at how events will play out in the UK. While there hasn't been the clamour to get fans back here, especially since the end of the League of Ireland, there is still an interest, maybe more from fans than the sports themselves, to give people a chance to see games in person again.

With all the excitement of the knockout season of football and hurling this year, wouldn't it be great that some fans got the chance to see the All-Ireland semis and finals in Croke Park? In an 85,000 seater stadium, one would think that an eight to 10,000 crowd would be a situation that the GAA could accommodate safely for what is already one of the most unusual of sporting years to come along in a 100 years.

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