L1: the coronavirus causes uncertainty

In Marseille and Nîmes, but also Nantes, Strasbourg, Montpellier and in all Ligue 1 clubs, the coronavirus has disrupted preparation and raised serious health and budgetary uncertainties over the season.

A recovery already turned upside down

After nearly six months of withdrawal, the first day of Ligue 1 promises to be lean: in addition to the postponement of the matches of PSG and Lyon due to the Champions League, the announcement of four cases of coronavirus in the Marseille ranks has dismissed also in September the opening match Marseille – Saint-Etienne. And Nîmes-Brest is on borrowed time after the discovery of new cases.

The spared clubs are not proud: “We are very vigilant, we are beating the heads of players with fairly strong daily messages. They are encouraged to have their families tested (…), unfortunately to limit contact with the outside as much as possible. But we know very well that the bubble is pierced everywhere ”, explains Nicolas Holveck, president of Rennes.

Contaminations are also on the rise in general in the cities of some of the affected clubs, such as Marseille and Nîmes, notes Emmanuel Orhant, medical director of the French Football Federation. If the trend continues, the efforts of clubs and entourage will not necessarily be sufficient, since the authorities could reconfigure cities or departments, and their clubs with it.

The unknown of the ticket office

The suspension of the championship in March took a toll on the clubs, who lost part of their television rights and revenues, which for most of them erased the gains hoped for this year thanks to the increase in rights in the new contract with Mediapro.

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Thus in Angers, the rights of this season will increase by 15 million euros, but this will serve above all to absorb the 11 million euros shortfall of last season.

And above all, the drastic limitation of the number of spectators augurs well for new shortfalls.

In Montpellier, “we presented to the DNCG (financial police) a provisional budget in deficit despite the increase in TV rights (…). We go so far into the unknown in terms of revenue and sponsorship that we are driving a little in the fog, ”explained the president of the club, Laurent Nicollin, to the daily Midi-Libre.

Especially since the gauge of 5,000 people often exceeds the number of subscribers. Faced with this situation, Lorient favors its former subscribers, Nantes has offered subscriptions where everyone pays for the match attended … And Marseille, whose finances were already not looking good, had to postpone its subscription campaign and do without for the moment the manna provided by its 33,000 inserts.

According to Christophe Lepetit, sports economist at the Limoges Center for Sports Law and Economics (CDES) in Limoges, match revenues represent on average 15% of the budget of elite clubs. And clubs are also likely to suffer from a reduction in sponsor commitments as well as a decline in the transfer market, while capital gains represent 800 to 900 million euros annually for French football.

But what would really “very seriously endanger the economy of Ligue 1” is that a second wave requires a new suspension and Mediapro then withholds part of the sums due, he warns.

Disparate preparations

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Uncertainty also hangs over the preparedness of several teams affected by the virus this summer and who have had to give up training camps, cancel friendlies, return to non-contact training conditions and leave a certain number of players in isolation.

This is particularly the case for Strasbourg (9 players affected), Nantes (7 players) and Montpellier (6 players), even if most of the positive players had little or no symptoms and were able to resume the training at the end of their fortnight, more or less quickly depending on the medical protocols of the clubs.

But “Covid cases are like injuries,” explains physical trainer Xavier Frezza. “The body will not have had its rise, they will go from a training rhythm to a match rhythm at the highest level, it is not obvious,” he adds. “The truth is the field. We have to get back to the rhythm of the field ”.

However, “the whole problem with this situation is that there is a huge lack of rhythm at the base. You have to see how organizations have digested this big big period of shutdown, because that never happens, ”he notes.