MANCHESTER, England — Much to the Premier League's dismay, the new season will start on Saturday just as the last one finished only 48 days earlier — in empty stadiums.
The world's richest football league on Friday intensified its lobbying of the government to allow supporters back into games, even as England grapples with a sharp spike in coronavirus cases.
The league wrote to the government on the eve of the season “to express its concern at the decisions taken to restrict, and potentially delay, the planned program for the return of fans to football stadiums.”
The letter was received as the government was preparing to enforce a tightening of restrictions on the size of social gatherings — down to six people indoors or outdoors. Authorities in the area covering the second city of Birmingham — and the homes of Premier League clubs Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion — are even asking different households to stop mixing completely.
Even as England records daily increases in COVID-19 cases of nearly 3,000, the Premier League believes it is safe enough to allow thousands of fans into games for test events. The target remains having stadiums at least a quarter full by next month.
Clubs are allowed to run pilot events with a maximum 1,000 fans, but the league believes that the crowd would not be large enough to sufficiently test procedures and would be heavily loss-making.
The league is hoping the financial argument will sway a government dealing with the country’s deepest recession that was caused by going into a lockdown in March, when its biggest sports competition shut down for 100 days.
The Premier League managed to complete its season in July to fulfil broadcast contracts, but clubs across the four professional leagues are desperate for the return of packed stadiums.
“For each month of the season without fans, more than 100 million pounds ($128 million) is lost to football across the leagues, with consequent damage to the local and national economy,” the Premier League said. “It also harms the employment prospects of more than 100,000 people whose jobs depend on matchday activities.”
Such concerns about a collapse in matchday revenue can explain why Liverpool opens its title defence on Saturday with American owner John Henry authorizing no signings beyond a backup left back.
“We live in a world at the moment with a lot of uncertainty,” Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp told the BBC. “For some clubs it seems to be less important how uncertain the future is. Owned by countries, owned by oligarchs, that’s the truth. We’re a different kind of club."
Chelsea, which is owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, has been the biggest summer transfer window spender. The west London club's $250 million spending spree confounds the pandemic belt-tightening elsewhere as it tries to mount a title challenge — starting Monday against Brighton — after scraping into fourth place last season.
Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City has spent around $90 million after being dethroned as champions by Liverpool, which ended a 30-year title drought.
City has an extra week's rest after reaching the Champions League quarterfinals, so Pep Guardiola's side doesn't start until Sept. 21 against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
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Rob Harris, The Associated Press