• 20 October 2020

David Griffiths, of specialist sports and entertainment insurance brokers Miller Insurance, urges clubs to step up their risk assessment and management efforts to limit exposure to potential losses resulting from Covid-19’s game changing impact on football.

The major European leagues have returned to competitive action against a backdrop of uncertainty, as a widely anticipated second Covid-19 spike begins to take its toll on daily life in nations across the continent.

Teams in Germany’s Bundesliga and France’s Ligue 1 have run out with the cheers of strictly limited number of supporters ringing in their ears, while English stadia remain empty.

The news that all UK football grounds could remain empty for at least six months, has come as a hammer blow for the football economy and imperils the very future of professional clubs which rely on ticket sales rather than TV and sponsorship money, to stay in business.

But this is football’s new reality and the nuances of Covid-19’s spread means that the situation is likely to keep evolving. The only certainty is uncertainty, and living with it is our new normal.

The uncertainty now permeates every area of the football business, putting increased pressure on directors and officers to make the right decisions under the most challenging circumstances. The pressure on these individuals is increased by changes in the insurance market that have arisen in 2020. Even before Covid-19 struck, premiums were rising after many years of reductions and, inevitably, this trend is set to continue. Critically, given the nature and impact of Covid-19, many policies now being renewed or implemented, have exclusions for loss directly attributed to the impact of the virus. The most dramatic impact has been on directors’ and officers’ liability cover, making it more difficult to buy and much more expensive where it is available.

In adapting to these new circumstances, football clubs and their officers have to acknowledge that the profile of risks facing their businesses has changed significantly, but should remember that while Covid-19-related risk may be at the top of the agenda, it is important not to lose sight of a range of others. 

As a result, every club should focus on identifying and managing risk and putting in place plans and procedures to ensure that they comply with all regulations, governmental guidelines and protocols agreed by the League, national governing body or UEFA/FIFA. Doing so will minimise the risk of any potential for allegations of negligence by employees or third parties in the event of injury.

Many risks will naturally relate to match-days and the use of training grounds, but there are others which must be considered.  With World Cup qualification matches scheduled this autumn in Covid-19 hot spots including South America, the release of high value players to travel and face potential exposure in stadia and elsewhere is an issue many clubs will have to consider. The rapidly changing nature of quarantine requirements could also impact footballers.

The fact is that Covid-19 has delivered a massive shock to football’s commercial ecosystem and we find ourselves in uncharted territory with many key factors out of the control of clubs. As a result, they face a raft of fresh challenges and new considerations. For events to take place under the new norm, where government advice has to be followed at all times, requires a thorough review and revision of established processes and procedures – in effect a new Playbook. 

Thorough risk assessment and the development of operational strategies to mitigate that risk is central to the planning of any event, or the running of any organisation. And while it might be tempting to imagine that events played in empty stadiums would present fewer risks because they  have fewer moving parts (no catering, hospitality or retail for example) and the absence of a crowd reduces the potential for incidents and accidents in certain areas, the reality is that a number of different challenges have arisen.

Among the key areas of risk is the supply chain on which every event relies. Under normal circumstances, the chain is long, varied and complex, covering everything from catering and hospitality through to security, publishing services (programmes) retail, first aid and medical…the list goes on and key elements such as security and medical will have to adapt in line with changing public health requirements from Central Governments.

It’s also essential to be confident that suppliers are reviewing and revising their own procedures to meet changing requirements. That includes staff training, testing and their own supply and procurement conditions. A club’s duty of care on match-days will mean that all reasonable checks of supplier processes can be expected.

Now that clubs are several months into a return to play, new health and safety measures have been established and implemented for match-day arrangements. It is vital that on-going reviews are planned to ensure that recent experience, as well as any new considerations arising because of the virus, and changes in regulations and guidelines, are taken into account to ensure procedures are effective under the new conditions.

Clubs need to be confident in the levels of training that all match-day staff have received and, in their ability, to operate safely and effectively under changed circumstances. Careful documentation of any incidents will be even more vital than before.

Naturally, effective collaboration and liaison with visiting clubs is essential to ensure that home games are staged successfully and safely, and it is vital to be clear on boundaries of responsibility and liability with other parties involved in staging a game. Particular care should be taken when playing in Cup competitions with teams from other leagues, where different procedures and Covid-19 testing regimes may be in place.

Demonstrating that processes are fit for purpose under the new normal and achieving a new level of information sharing and communication among stakeholders, will provide clubs with the comfort that, should injuries occur, they will be able to demonstrate a well thought out and documented process to support a comprehensive defence against negligence allegations.

The world has changed, nothing can be taken for granted and every aspect of event organisation, processes and procedures must be analysed, and the risks assessed through the prism of the new realities we face. Getting things wrong now might have a lasting impact.

Originally shared in fcbusiness Magazine - Issue 128 - October 2020