UK broadcasters and sports bodies will meet with the government today to discuss the impact coronavirus could have on the sporting calendar.
The meeting, hosted by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is part of the government’s long-term contingency planning and will cover various possibilities, such as holding events behind closed doors, should the decision be taken to ban gatherings of large numbers.
Reports suggest there is a “growing expectation” that Premier League matches will have to be played behind closed doors within the next two weeks, depending on advice from the government.
However, culture secretary Oliver Dowden told BBC Radio 5 Live, “At this stage we’re not in the territory of cancelling or postponing events.
“I do want to emphasise in relation to sporting events, any talk of cancellation is very premature indeed. At the moment there is no evidence to suggest we should be doing that and we don’t have any plans to.”
Premier League executive director Bill Bush did not wish to comment “on things that are speculative” as he exited the meeting.
“The basic message is ‘let’s not panic’,” added Bill Sweeney, Rugby Football Union chief executive. “Clearly it is a moving situation so just keep talking and go from there.”
Alex DeGroote, independent media analyst and senior advisor to Trillium Partners, tells TVBEurope there is a case for the Football Association and Football Leagues to suspend the so-called “Saturday 3pm broadcast ban” on football matches. “Public safety is the number one priority,” he says. “This will of course be on the advice of government, police and local authorities. The FA and leagues have to balance multiple stakeholder demands at this difficult time, which will be very tricky.”
DeGroote adds that the commercial impact for broadcasters could be two-fold: “One, there’s the possibility of empty schedules and short term hit to viewing. And two, a loss of advertising, from all sectors.
“There is no bright side,” he continues. “Pay-TV is trying to remain firm in an age of streaming/SVoD competition, and live sport is one of their main competitive advantages. Delayed or cancelled live sport is a major issue. On the other hand, ‘home cocoons’ become more common when households become reclusive – and then consumption goes up – which might help operators like Sky.”
Italy has ordered all major sporting events throughout the country to be played without fans for one month in a bid to curb the coronavirus outbreak, while the upcoming Italy v England Six Nations match in Rome has been postponed.
Fans will not be allowed to attend the Bahrain Grand Prix later this month because of the outbreak. German broadcaster RTL announced last month it would not be sending staff to cover the race due to the outbreak.
The ATP and WTA Indian Wells tournament has been cancelled as California health officials declared a public health emergency in the Indian Wells-Palm Springs area after there was a confirmed case of the coronavirus, the first major sports event in the US to be cancelled because of the outbreak.
Other major sporting events over the next few weeks include:
10-13: Horse racing – Cheltenham Festival
13-15: Formula 1 – Australian Grand Prix, Melbourne
14: Rugby union – final round of men’s Six Nations: Wales v Scotland; Italy v England; France v Ireland
21-22: Football – FA Cup quarter-finals
26: Football – Euro 2020 qualifying play-off semi-finals: Bosnia-Herzegovina v Northern Ireland; Slovakia v Republic of Ireland; Scotland v Israel
27: Football – Euro 2020 warm-ups: England v Italy, Wembley; Wales v Austria, Swansea’s Liberty Stadium
29: Rowing – Boat Races, London
4-5: Football – FA Cup semi-finals, Wembley
4: Horse racing – Grand National, Aintree
9-12: Golf – Masters, Augusta National
26: Athletics – London Marathon