The Premier League is back. Three months after the season ground to a halt as the COVID-19 crisis deepened, Aston Villa and Sheffield United will get the remainder of the campaign underway at an empty Villa Park on Wednesday night. 

While Liverpool have been champions-in-waiting since the season was suspended, there is so much more to play for. Who will grab the final Champions League place? Will the Blades crown a memorable first season back in the top flight with European qualification? And with no one team yet floundering at the bottom of the table, who will be relegated?

There is though one big question that is yet to be answered: what will the financial implications be for clubs with no fans in the stadium and a significantly changed broadcast outlook?

On the face of it, top flight clubs should be far less affected financially compared to those in the EFL, largely due to the generous sums of TV money on offer. However, it’s been widely reported that clubs will still have to collectively pay a rebate of up to £350m to broadcasters due to the change in timing and the product on offer. Clubs are also set to miss out on an estimated cumulative £150m of match day income with games now being played behind closed doors for the rest of the season. It’s a little harder to predict the commercial shortfall for clubs depending on their relationship with sponsors, but even a 10% fall in commercial revenue based on 2018/19 figures could equate to around £140m, meaning a black hole of £640m+ emerges.

Chris Winn, a finance academic at UCFB and former co-author of the Deloitte Annual Review of Football Finance, commented on the sums. He said: “Ultimately, the suspension of play has shone a light on just how critical cash flow management is across all levels of the game. In the Premier League, match day revenue accounted for just 13% of revenues in the 2018/19 season. However, despite historically contributing the least to the revenue mix of top flight clubs, match day revenue will still be the most consistent cash inflow received by clubs in the course of paying the high and frequent levels of staff wages and other operating costs.”

Controversially, some Premier League clubs have taken advantage of the government’s furlough scheme to pay for some staff costs, including Newcastle United and Norwich City. Liverpool, Tottenham and Bournemouth also announced they were to use the scheme, before fierce opposition from their own fans made them backtrack. Other clubs, such as Watford, Southampton, Arsenal and Aston Villa have deferred part of their salaries or taken pay cuts.

Chris said: “With such revenue streams usually a given from a forecasting perspective, issues may arise where clubs have spent this money in advance.”

Looking at the figures of the previous season, he added: “In 2018/19, Premier League clubs’ paid out a total of c.£60m per week in staff costs (61% of revenues), with a total further c.£22m per week in other operating costs. These are clearly significant sums.”

Chris added: “With clubs recording a cumulative loss before tax position of c.£175m in 2018/19, the worst result since 2012/13, and little further growth in the value of the Premier League broadcast rights cycle commencing 2019/20, it is likely that such levels of losses could now be further compounded this season.”