Worrying trends are already emerging as clubs in League One and League Two brace themselves for the impact of the cost of living crisis and rising energy prices, and prepare to weather the World Cup.
Concern is growing at the bottom of the English football pyramid as these challenging factors converge so shortly after the devastating impact of Covid lockdowns, threatening income streams.
Attendance figures in the EFL have held up well at the start of this season, although clubs like Lincoln City have seen signs of a slowdown in extra matchday spending on things like food, merchandise and 50/50 tickets.
“The trend we’re seeing is that, by and large, fans still want to see and support the team,” Lincoln CEO Liam Scully told Sportsmail. “But with money getting tight they’re trying to be more cautious about spending on things like 50/50 tickets and food at the games.
“Anecdotally, fans seem to come to games later, whether that means staying home longer or staying local. We launched our third kit a few weeks ago and we think we have three strong kits this season, but that doesn’t correlate with sales.’
Fuel prices mean operating costs for clubs are skyrocketing, and the results of a poll by the Fair Game campaign group released earlier this week showed some were willing to consider moving kick-off times to weekends to save on floodlighting costs .
“I don’t see the benefit,” Scully said, although League One clubs like Lincoln expect a 200 per cent increase in the cost of floodlighting, from around £200 to £600 per game. “There is no compelling economic sense in bringing kick-off a few hours to 1 a.m. and it makes it harder for fans, with a consequence of hotel and travel costs.
“As always in football, when you move a piece there is a domino effect.”
Shrewsbury Town CEO Brian Caldwell told Sportsmail that the money saved by shifting weekend kick-off times will likely be offset by the increased cost of renting hotels for more nights away at away games.
At Shrewsbury, they expect annual energy bills to rise from £80,000-100,000 last season to £160,000-200,000 this season.
“That would be disastrous in leagues one and two, where matchday revenue can account for 40 to 50 per cent of turnover. Clubs are on their knees going from one crisis to the next.’
The Premier League and Championship will be on hiatus due to the World Cup, but leagues one and two will go ahead and compete head-to-head with live Qatari football on TV and have the opportunity to host their own games due to the temporary suspension of Article 48 of UEFA, the Transmission, stream blackout.
“I don’t see any benefit to L1 and L2 in a winter World Cup,” Scully said. “It shows the power in the hands of so few.”
The 72 EFL clubs will discuss such matters when they meet on Thursday.