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Barber speaks to Seagulls Over London

Chief executive and deputy chairman Paul Barber met with more than 50 members of Seagulls Over London via video conference on Monday evening of this week.

By Bruce Talbot • 08 April 2020

By Paul Hazlewood
Chief Executive and Deputy Chairman Paul Barber.

He candidly answered a wide range of questions about the impact of the coronavirus. Here’s a summary of what Paul had to say about various topics. 

What’s the latest on player wage cuts and deferrals? 

Following a briefing for player representatives from each club by the Premier League and PFA on Saturday afternoon, Dan Ashworth and I had our own meeting with our players’ representatives, which was constructive and helpful. We have an excellent group of players. 

My hope is we will receive some support at a difficult time for the club, and for our industry generally. Our players must consent to any contract variations as they are guaranteed, and quite different to normal employment contracts. 

Our players and staff are well aware of how rooted we are in our community, and a number have already made personal donations to support various good causes and charities locally.

06:48

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Barber on coronavirus situation

When will the season will be completed? 

We would all love some certainty on when the season will end. We have eight or nine match weekends that the broadcasters were expecting from us. TV income is really important to all clubs and it helps sustains over three hundred jobs in the club and, ideally, we would want to receive that income by completing the season. There will be a point when we have to take a call on the current season to protect next season, although I don’t think we’re there just yet. 

Football is not the priority at the moment when hundreds of people are losing their lives and the Prime Minister is in intensive care. I have been in professional football for 25 years and never experienced anything as uncertain as this.

We are trying to work from a script that has never been written. We’re having to make a hundred decisions a day and we just pray that we get the majority right. The situation changes by the hour. It’s a very difficult and uncertain time for everyone. 

How much time would players need to get fit again to play? 

Our medical staff say we’d need a minimum of three to four weeks for the players to get to a level to play matches, and it could be longer depending on how long the break goes on.

We can’t train until social distancing rules are relaxed but every club will be in roughly the same position once they are. 

Now we know there is no prospect of playing for a while, several players have gone overseas to be with their families but they will be back at the end of April. The players have shown incredible professionalism in the last few weeks. 

They were delighted when we told them they could go home, but in such a challenging situation it was a human thing to do and I am glad we were able to do it. 

30:12

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Barber & Potter press conference

What about season-ticket holders who are struggling financially by lump sum?

We made the decision on a payment holiday as the crisis escalated and after most people had already renewed. As we said in our original statement, anyone paying by lump sum that needs help should make contact with supporter services directly and we will do what we can to provide support. 

If the season wasn’t completed our season-ticket holders would be refunded for matches that don’t take place or issued with a credit for next season.

What are the financial implications of all this for the club? 

Every club is different. We have a very generous and supportive owner, but Tony Bloom has other business interests to look after too. The government’s Job Retention Scheme is designed to protect jobs in businesses who have suffered or been shut down because of the virus. We are one such case in point. Our income has ceased overnight, but our costs haven’t. 

Our priority will always be to protect as many jobs and incomes as we can. The vast majority of our staff live locally. At this stage, we haven’t used the furlough scheme, but we may have to if the crisis extends for an even longer period. We have been very open with our staff and, whilst we will be doing everything, we can to reduce costs and protect our people, we cannot make any firm or indefinite guarantees. 

We just don’t know how long it will be before we are earning money again so we can’t rule anything out to make sure our club remains sustainable.

Can the club do more to help those in the lower leagues and grass roots football?

We haven’t forgotten that not so long ago we were playing in the lower levels and it is important to us that the professional pyramid of 91/92 clubs remain viable and sustainable. It is one of the unique things about the English game.

We all have friends working in lower league clubs and we know how much they are suffering at this time. More than £100m a year flows from the Premier League to the lower levels, and 50% of The FA’s net revenues generated from broadcast and sponsorship deals for the national teams and FA Cup, also filters down to grass roots football. 

Given the scale of the current crisis, it’s vitally important that we ensure the financial stability of our club, and the jobs of our staff, as an immediate priority, but we are not averse to providing help for clubs at lower levels if it’s possible for us to do so.

Just this past week, the Premier League has advanced payments to the EFL to provide urgent support for clubs at lower levels. 

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