Picture: 123RF/BOWIE 15
Picture: 123RF/BOWIE 15

The English Premier League's preliminary discussions about a rescue package for England's smallest soccer teams have progressed, with officials sounding out team owners about a potential £80m (R1.3bn) lifeline, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The 48 clubs in the two lowest divisions would each be offered a share of the funds to help them continue to play throughout the season, much of it without fans.

The lifeline is much smaller than the £250m that the English Football League, whose three divisions sit below the Premier League, had been seeking.

The amount and structure of the funding package could change. A spokesman for the English Football League said discussions were continuing.

Excluded from the offer would be the 24 Championship teams, English soccer's second-highest division, comprising squads such as Derby County, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday.

One person said that the Premier League, which declined to comment, had £35m in reserve because it has been spared a payment of that amount to newly promoted Fulham. Fulham would have been due a parachute payment stemming from its relegation from the Premier League in 2019 but will not receive it after being promoted last season. It's not clear who would pay the remainder of the proposed £80m bailout.

Lower-league teams have been especially hard hit after the government recently backtracked on a plan to allow a limited number of fans back into stadiums. Unlike the Premier League, the lower divisions don't have lucrative broadcast agreements to supplement in-person attendance at matches.

Lower-league clubs have taken to streaming some matches online and charging fans to view them in an attempt to help claw back lost revenue.

Earlier this week, the Premier League, English Football League, Football Association, Women's Championship and the Women's Super League wrote an open letter to supporters arguing that soccer should be allowed to open its doors again in the same way that indoor venues are being allowed to stage concerts. "We will continue to urge government to allow us to return fans safely to stadiums," the leagues wrote.

"It is positive progress that major arts and music venues have been told they can run socially distanced events indoors. And now football should be allowed to do the same - in highly regulated and stewarded outdoor environments."

Premier League teams have been reluctant to agree to a bailout due to their own concerns about when they might be allowed to welcome fans back to their stadiums, and they are also wary about helping out clubs that might be potential competitors.

Bloomberg

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