With it looking unlikely that we’ll see a return of fans to Brunton Park until the beginning of next season (and even that has yet to be confirmed) football clubs the length and breadth of the country are now resigning themselves to the fact that more vital income will be lost.
Fingers are of course crossed that August will see supporters once again in the stands and on the terraces, but even that will mean that 18-months will have passed without income from tickets sales, hospitality and all associated match day activities.
We spoke to chief executive Nigel Clibbens about the financial implications for Carlisle United of such a prolonged period without the normal levels of revenue coming into the club.
“If we look back, who would have thought we’d have 18 months without fans,” he agreed. “It’s quite remarkable how things have panned out. Going right back to June of last year I think I said that each month without fans was an equivalent of about £150,000 of income at risk.
“That’s commercial, retail and ticket income. That’s where we thought we would be from June, and as we’ve gone through the last three months of last year, and then the first six months until the end of December, that’s proved to be very, very accurate.
“I’m sure you can work out the maths on that, and it means we’ve lost a lot of income. In terms of some headlines, our season tickets are down by about £125,000, our walk-up income is down by about £250,000 and our commercial activities are down by about £150,000.
“That’s over £500,000, give or take, in the first six months of the year that has actually gone, on top of the three months from the end of last season. That’s where we are as we sit here now. We’re faced with another three to four months of lost trading this season, because obviously once we get to May we don’t have much income anyway.”
The rate of loss means that an 18-month period with effectively no footfall will leave the club with an income deficit of around £1.5m, a figure which can appear both daunting and insurmountable.
“Again, going back to June, and even before that, we’ve constantly been looking at ways to mitigate that monthly loss,” he told us. “We’ve had the benefit of furlough grants, and that goes back to March last year when it was first introduced.
“We’re actually still claiming furlough for some people now. We’ve had the benefit of the EFL bailout, which came from the Premier League, and we received £360,000 from that.
“We’ve saved significant amounts of costs by not having fans here, so that has helped in terms of outgoings, and we’ve had income from players sales on top of that.
“Our streaming service iFollow has also been really important in helping to make up that gap. After 21 games we were at £138,000 of revenue from the service, and if you work that up for a full season you’re probably looking at over £250,000.
“Again, that’s welcome and it’s been really interesting how it’s tracked. We started off with good numbers then we kind of reached a plateau. We had the break, and since that break the numbers have got even better.
“I think the fans have taken to it because a lot of the initial teething troubles have gone away and they’ve got really comfortable with signing up and using it. There’s more confidence in what it provides, winning matches helps, so we’ve seen the users go up and, again, it’s big numbers and we need it to continue, so thanks for the support from everybody who tunes in and uses it.
“What I do know is that when you have three games in eight days, and that goes on and on for weeks and months, the cash cost mounts up. We really are grateful for everybody who does subscribe.”
A full iFollow update will be on the official website on Friday morning
“All of these things go into the pot to balance out the big loss of income,” he continued. “Right now we’re looking ok, we can deal with that over the 18-month period, and it’s really good and comforting to know that’s the case.
“We have no concerns on that level, we’ve done what we’ve needed to do without the need to take support from anybody externally, whether that’s shareholders or EWM.
“I’ve been on record as saying the last time we took money from EWM was going back to about May 2019. That’s continuing, and with the position of their business going into administration that source of support has gone away.
“We’re now self-sufficient, which we have been from May 2019, so that’s not a shock, it’s something we planned for, but we’ve now had to deal with it in focus because of coronavirus. With all of this together we’re reasonably well placed, but it is difficult.
“Every single week is difficult and with the extension that means effectively fans are ruled out for the entire season now, we’re looking at it being difficult week after week as we work to make up income losses going forward.”
Also helping to fill the deficit was the aforementioned bailout, which was welcomed by every club as a much-needed influx of funds.
“The Premier League support package of £50m for Leagues One and Two was absolutely fantastic in the end, even though it took a long time to come,” he confirmed. “It was a real lifesaver for clubs. £30m of that was originally allocated in direct payments, which all of the clubs have had.
“That leaves £20m available as loans in really distressed situations. That’s for clubs that are literally struggling and facing ruin. We’re not in that position so I don’t see that, as we sit here, as a route for us to be able to access any of that money.
“If it came to that, we’d hope that there’s something left if we needed it. Discussions are still ongoing about how to allocate that money. We haven’t drawn on it at this stage and we have no plans to. I’m not expecting that there’d be more money in respect of this season, because a line’s been drawn under that.
“We’ve already had the regular Premier League payments and the next we would expect to see will be around August/September time. The last payment would normally come in January, but it came a couple of months early in October. We’ve kind of caught up with that again, so it’s all back to normal.”
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