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Town owner Evans on football’s perfect storm, a potential £10m loss, adjusting budgets and compensation for season ticket holders

PUBLISHED: 16:42 24 September 2020 | UPDATED: 17:30 24 September 2020

Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans (centre), manager Paul Lambert (left) and general manager of football operations Lee O'Neill pictured ahead of the Blues' Carabao Cup game against Bristol Rovers. Photo: Steve Waller

Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans (centre), manager Paul Lambert (left) and general manager of football operations Lee O'Neill pictured ahead of the Blues' Carabao Cup game against Bristol Rovers. Photo: Steve Waller

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Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans has responded to the delay in supporters returning to Portman Road by addressing fans on the continued impact of the virus and what’s needed to help clubs stay afloat.

Marcus Evans greets the Town players after  the warm up  at Bristol Rovers. Picture Pagepix LtdMarcus Evans greets the Town players after the warm up at Bristol Rovers. Picture Pagepix Ltd

Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans fears clubs will go out of business as the Blues face up to a £10million loss if the entire season is played behind-closed-doors.

The government’s move to delay the return of supporters to stadiums further, in the wake of a spike in coronavirus cases, comes as a hammer blow for football and sport in general, increasing already-existing fears regarding the future of clubs outside the top two divisions.

Evans has vowed to do all he can shelter the Blues from the financial impact of the virus, while also stating he will look at how to further compensate Town’s near 9,000 season ticket holders, who face the real prospect of not stepping inside Portman Road until 2021.

He also wants to see clubs supported from either the government or from the Premier League, at a time when he sees a real ‘imbalance’ between the top and bottom of the professional pyramid.

“There is a substantial imbalance in the game,” the Town owner said as part of a statement on the club’s website.

“I have always had that opinion and have long campaigned for a more level playing field, whether it be in the distribution of parachute payments or financial fair play.

“I know the EFL and the Premier League have been in discussions for months about securing the future of clubs and hopefully there will be some movement on that very quickly. There needs to be some help from somewhere or there will be an inevitable conclusion.”

Marcus Evans’ full statement

Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans and  general manager of football operations Lee O'Neill watch on.
    Picture: Steve Waller       
www.stephenwaller.comIpswich Town owner Marcus Evans and general manager of football operations Lee O'Neill watch on. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com

What is your reaction to the decision by the Government this week for the planned return of supporters to stadiums to be put on hold?

Disappointing. Disappointing for clubs; disappointing for local businesses that benefit from having a matchday in the town and most importantly, disappointing for the supporters. I’ve been to our games at Portman Road this season and was also at Bristol last week and having no supporters is a very strange experience.

Forget the financial side of it - I’ll come to that in a minute - the actual matchday experience, it’s just lacking in atmosphere. It’s just not the same game and speaking to Paul [Lambert, Town boss] and the players, I know they feel the same. We all want supporters back as soon as possible.

That’s the question though, when will supporters be back? What are your thoughts?

Look, our primary concern obviously is the health and safety of all who come into the stadium. It has to be a safe environment but the staff at the Club had worked very hard to implement all the measures needed to make Portman Road exactly that, a safe place to watch football in these testing times. I am assured that the safety authorities were very impressed with what we put in front of them. That was clearly the case as they gave us the go-ahead to apply to hold a test event for Saturday’s game against Rochdale and were also happy for us to increase the numbers of supporters in attendance as we proceeded in line with Covid-secure guidelines.

We are not alone. I think there will be many football clubs who have some of the most developed and controlled Covid-secure measures in place and are ready to go.

It’s the Government’s call though on when supporters will be allowed back and there is no indication that will happen anytime soon…

I’m sure there is a willingness from all parties to get supporters back into stadiums, not just football but all sports as soon as it’s safe to do so. The Government will decide when that is but it’s important that the sports bodies maintain that continuous dialogue and press home how prepared we are to welcome supporters back. I hope to have that very conversation myself with the local MP, Tom Hunt, when it’s appropriate.

This isn’t just about Ipswich Town; it goes deeper into the local community. A lot of local businesses thrive on the income generated by a football club being based in their town or city. Ipswich is no different.

Extensive research we have done with our supporters shows that around £200,000 is spent by fans every matchday locally. That’s money spent in local businesses and in council charges, not at the Football Club. That’s £5 million plus over the season. So it’s not just us that are being hit financially, it will spread around the ‘High Street’ and that’s at a time when High Streets were already facing severe financial challenges before Covid.

Can you give us an indication of the financial impact that Covid is having on the Football Club?

If you want a headline figure, we could be £10m down by the end of the season if the situation remains as it is.

That is a huge loss. That figure could wipe out other clubs. Do you fear that?

Yes I do. Clubs are on the edge now. If something isn’t done to support lower level clubs who don’t benefit from the Premier League TV revenues, I think it’s inevitable that clubs will go under. We are heading for a ‘Perfect Storm’ in football. Owners, whose own businesses may well be suffering losses, will get to a point where they are not in a position to continue to cover substantial deficits at their football club.

Ipswich Town went into administration before…

I’m aware of that but it’s my duty as owner to make sure we do not follow that path again. We have had to adjust our budgets accordingly. At the moment, we have no income coming in outside season ticket revenue apart from those purchasing the streaming on iFollow. That is important income for us. I know it’s not the same as ‘being there’ on matchday but for now, iFollow is as good as football can offer given the circumstances.

I can’t thank season ticket holders enough for the tremendous support they have continued to give to the Club and with the latest uncertainty over when limited crowds will return I am going to explore if there are any additional make goods we can provide on top of those contained within the original season ticket offer.

Do you expect the Government to start helping the clubs lower down who are struggling financially?

I hope so. I’d like to see some form of grants provided for clubs at the lower end who have suffered losses from the impact of Covid. As I said earlier, football clubs have a massive impact on towns and cities up and down the country. They are often the focal point of the community but with no supporters at games, the impact is felt across the whole community.

What about the argument that football should take care of itself? Look at the money spent in the Premier League on transfers, wages and the rest. Surely that can be filtered down to help the EFL clubs?

I fully understand that argument and agree. There is a substantial imbalance in the game. I have always had that opinion and have long campaigned for a more level playing field, whether it be in the distribution of parachute payments or financial fair play. I know the EFL and the Premier League have been in discussions for months about securing the future of clubs and hopefully there will be some movement on that very quickly. There needs to be some help from somewhere or there will be an inevitable conclusion.


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