On Monday 9 March, The Times reported that in the event of sporting events being played behind closed doors to prevent the spread of coronavirus, broadcast rights holders such as Sky Sports and BT Sport could be asked to screen games kicking off at 3pm for free but to block their signal into pubs to prevent large gatherings.
It’s been suggested that the Football Association may be forced to lift its blackout legislation – which blocks UK broadcasters from showing both domestic and foreign fixtures kicking off between 2.45pm and 5.15pm on Saturdays in order to protect attendances – while matches from the Championship, League One and League Two could be made available via iFollow, the English Football League’s streaming service.
Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme on 9 March, the BBC’s sport editor Dan Roan explained: "There's a growing expectation from within sport now that staging events behind closed doors is now probable rather than just possible.”
However, Roan added that if this happens, sports broadcasters and bodies may consider taking measures to deter people from gathering in large numbers to watch games in pubs for fears that it could be counterproductive.
In its report, The Times quoted a source involved in discussions between football’s authorities, broadcasters and Government officials as saying: “It makes sense to remove the blackout but what we don’t want to do is create a new problem by just moving those crowds from the stadiums to the pubs.”
Any disruption to the broadcast schedule is likely to prove costly for pubs, with MatchPint and CGA reporting an average uplift of £30,000 on wet sales in pubs per year from Premier League football.
Six Nations disrupted
The report comes as a number of sporting fixtures have already fallen victim to coronavirus – which, at the time of writing, has led to 382 confirmed cases and sixth deaths in the UK.
It was announced on Monday 9 March that all sport in Italy, the worst-affected European country, has been suspended until at least 3 April amid a nationwide lockdown to prevent the further spread of Covid-19.
What’s more, the Six Nations championship has been hit by coronavirus, with Wales’s home tie against Scotland the only match for its final weekend currently unaffected after France’s game against Ireland and England’s trip to Italy were both postponed.
The British Beer & Pub Association had predicted that a knock-on effect of the 2020 Six Nations between 1 February and 15 March would be an extra 7m pints poured in UK pubs – enough to quench the thirst of every adult of drinking age in Scotland and Wales, or water the 82,000-capacity Twickenham Stadium 85 times over – however, the tournament has faced disruption with Ireland’s clash with Italy on 7 March the first to be postponed.
Impact on domestic and European football
Elsewhere, Manchester City's Premier League clash with Arsenal on Wednesday 11 March has been postponed as a “precautionary measure” after several Arsenal players were revealed to be in self-isolation after meeting Olympiacos and Nottingham Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis – who was later revealed to have contracted coronavirus.
However, Arsenal’s Premier League opponents this weekend, Brighton, have stated that their fixture “remains scheduled to go ahead as planned” at 3pm on Saturday at the Amex Stadium.
What’s more, while Wolves have had calls for their Europa League clash with Olympiacos to be postponed rejected by UEFA – after Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo told Sky Sports News he was “not happy” to go to Greece for the tie – it’s been revealed that the fixture, in addition to midweek European ties involving Chelsea, Manchester United and Rangers will go ahead behind closed doors.