We answer some of the main questions surrounding the future of the current Premier League season
We answer some of the main questions surrounding the future of the current Premier League season

Premier League suspension: The main legal questions answered with 2019/20 season on hold

The Premier League and Sky Bet EFL seasons have been postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak.

It has put a halt to proceedings with 75% of the campaign completed. It's uncertain when the game will return, although it's clear that there is a preference among the majority to play out the remaining fixtures.

The Premier League has come under scrutiny as the calls for pay cuts get louder, particularly with some opting to use the government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for non-playing staff.

However, England's top-flight announced last week that it will advance £125m to EFL and National League clubs, while a £20m donation has also been made to the NHS.

The delay has prompted a number of questions surrounding players contracts, the impact on broadcasting revenue, and indeed if players can be forced to take pay cuts.

To find out the answers, we turned to one of the UK's leading sports lawyers. Richard Cramer, of Front Row Legal, has over 25 years of legal experience and extensive knowledge in sports-related disputes.

Here, he speaks to Sporting Life regarding some of the main talking points surrounding the current season.

What happens with player contracts?

COVID-19 crisis: What happens with footballers' contracts

One of the biggest issues that comes with extending the season involves players contracts.

A standard football contract expires at the end of June. However, with proposals for games to be played throughout the summer and the postponement of the Euros to accommodate this, it raises questions regarding what happens to those who will see their deal expire during the remainder of the campaign.

The likes of Chelsea's Willian, Manchester City's David Silva and Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen are all on deals that will conclude in the summer.

The logical solution to this, in the view of Cramer, is to have those contracts extended so that they cover the remainder of the season when a decision is made.

"It's a good question because football has never been in this situation where a contract expiry date is suddenly not a contract expiry date," he explained to Sporting Life.

"This is a real challenge for football. The reason why June 30 is there is because it's the cut-off point to go from one season to another with transfer windows and new contracts coming into play.

"Nobody would have ever imagined that we could have had a scenario of a contract expiring but that conflicting with what appears to be FIFA's starting point and basic premise which is that they want this season finishing.

David Silva wore the armband during Manchester City's clash with West Ham
David Silva's contract is due to expire in the summer

"We could have a bizarre scenario where the 2019/20 season is continuing into potentially July, August or even September - we just do not know.

"With the scenario of players coming out of contract, and not just players but managerial staff and coaching staff as well, the only realistic way that we can try and keep some sanity and some fairness and really work on the basis that the season has to finish, is based on the contracts of June 30 being extended. It's the only way.

"Now, the football authorities just can't, in my view, unilaterally impose that on anybody. There has to be some kind of consent from all the key stakeholders in football.

"It's going to take a monumental effort from all of the football authorities to keep the season alive so that the easiest way to avoid disputes is to keep the season going.

"Decisions such as who finishes where in the league, who is promoted, who is relegated and who goes into Europe next season are dealt with on the field as opposed to courtrooms or arbitrations.

"This is what the football authorities will be desperately trying to do so that there is consistency throughout the whole of Europe and that all of the key stakeholders will buy into this process.

"It's really going to be difficult if we don't get back to playing around early May. There's probably just about enough weeks from May to the end of June to get the games finished - albeit that's going to be a real challenge."

Can players be forced to take pay cuts?

COVID-19 crisis: Premier League pay cuts

Much of the discussion surrounding Premier League finances at the moment centres on players taking pay cuts.

That pressure intensified when Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, stated last week that Premier League footballers need to "play their part".

That led to a backlash from some within the industry, including the PFA, and Burnley manager Sean Dyche is the latest to express his concern with Hancock's comments.

"I can only presume he (Matt Hancock) was immediately ill informed," Dyche said on Monday morning.

"I can't talk about other businesses, I can only speak about the football industry because I have been in it all of my life. I have seen footballers do so many good things, so many things financially, so many things with time, care, effort and attention."

The latest idea revolves around players taking a 30% cut to their salary, although that must be agreed by all relevant parties.

"No employer can force any employee to take a wage cut. That is just English law," Cramer explained. "To do so would be a breach of contract.

"Of course, it's entirely feasible for any employee, any player or group of players within a club, to consent to vary their contract terms.

Graham Potter: Brighton boss celebrates their Premier League win over Tottenham
Brighton boss Graham Potter has agreed to a pay cut

"There has been a lot of debate over the last few days about the Premier League almost wanting the players to take a 30% pay cut, that seems to be the figure banded about, but the devil is in the detail.

"Is it a wage cut? A salary sacrifice? Or is it a wage deferment? This is what we do not know yet.

"Then what happens to all of the tax that relates to that 30%. To a certain extent, HMRC potentially lose out on a substantial amount of revenue from a player's individual wages.

"This is a debate that appears to have kicked off at the back end of last week but at the moment we do not know what the exact position is.

"I think there seems to be some good will on the part of the players to go along with the idea that the ought to contribute to society and to contribute in terms of financial support for the NHS and the front line workers.

"But the clubs themselves need to be part of any process. I read somewhere, it's well documented, that smaller clubs within the Premier League will very soon run out of money.

"There are some real challenges here and it's going to take a Herculean effort for everyone to agree on something that they are comfortable with."

What are the financial implications of a shortened season?

COVID-19 crisis: Premier League broadcast deals

The impact of extending the current campaign is almost certain to affect the 2020/21 season in some capacity.

Continuing to play games throughout the summer is likely to delay the start of next season and there's a possibility of less fixtures being staged.

With the majority of Premier League finances coming through broadcasting revenue, a decision to shorten a campaign will have a significant financial impact.

"The big challenge now with any broadcasting deal is what happens this season because the deals are always predicated on the basis that all of those games will be finished in this particular season," Cramer continued.

"That is challenge number one, to try and get this season finished and satisfy the broadcasters. The second issue is really what happens next season and there's a bit of feeling that, in order to get the 2019/20 season finished, there's going to have to be a sacrifice somewhere down the line of games.

"It may well be that there is a reduction in the number of games played in the 2020/21 season and the broadcasters would expect for the games that are normally played to be played.

"So, one could see perhaps an adjustment down in terms of the revenues that the broadcasts provided and if they're only going to get 50% of the games being broadcast next season then it doesn't take a genius to work out that there is going to be a 50% reduction in TV income.

"That in itself is going to create significant challenges for all of the clubs - both in the Premier League and the EFL."

Gerard Deulofeu speaks to Sky Sports
Gerard Deulofeu speaks to Sky Sports

It's not just the broadcasting companies that will be affected, but so too will the large number of companies and suppliers that a club works with throughout a regular season.

"You can see that it cascades all the way down to those companies that are providing catering services or the company that produces the programmes," Cramer stated.

"All of these contracts, that are negotiated in good faith and nobody particularly looks at the small print until there's a problem, they are now going to have to be looked at very carefully.

"Nobody wants to lose out financially on this one. It may just be that football as an entity, with all of the stakeholders and those involved with it, have to take a financial hit somewhere down the line.

"I think that the biggest challenge right now, and this seems to be the main focus from FIFA, is how can we get this season finished.

"Without that, I think there are some real dangers. We've seen in Belgium, they took the matter by the scruff of the neck and they declared their season in effect as null and void. Almost starting all over again. That appears to be the last option that anyone wants in this country.

"But there may come a point where we have to give serious consideration to that because logistically, it might not be possible to get these games completed."

What happens if the season is voided?

(video no longer available)

The most extreme scenario would see the season cancelled with a number of games yet to be played.

That splits into two possibilities: rendering the season null and void and expunging results, or declaring that the current standings are final.

Either would create a huge divide and a number of legal questions to go with it. Not just for those in the Premier League, but the clubs also chasing promotion in the Sky Bet Championship.

In Cramer's view, that is one of the reasons why the authorities are looking to find a solution to play out this season.

"It's a monumental decision to void the season," he stated. "That means it effect that all records are expunged and we start all over again.

"One can imagine that clubs, not just Leeds and West Brom but all the others that are lined up for promotion, will be very disgruntled and they'll have a genuine grievance against the Premier League or the EFL, whoever it is, in relation to that decision.

"That's why I believe that FIFA and UEFA, and the board of directors at the top level of English football, would be very desperate to avoid that scenario because it would open up a Pandora's box."

Should the drastic decision be made to void the campaign, those clubs affected would have a legal right to appeal.

Mateusz Klich (second left): Leeds celebrate midfielder's goal against Barnsley
Leeds currently top the Sky Bet Championship table

"They always have a legal right to challenge a decision," Cramer said. "It's a tough decision for any judge or arbitrator to make.

"The problem is that damages aren't necessarily the remedy that those clubs want. You take West Brom or Leeds, financial compensation is not necessarily what they want.

"They need a decision to say that the season will continue so eventually when the games are played, and they will be eventually, then who gets promoted is decided on the field and not in a courtroom.

"But any club that feels disenfranchised by a decision that doesn't suit them will of course have a right to pursue a legal action. How and where that goes remains to be seen.

"What the football authorities can ill-afford to happen is suddenly a quagmire of problems with clubs litigating or threatening to litigate.

"I think that it's not something that anybody would feel particularly comfortable with - hence the reason why the number one objective from FIFA is to get the leagues finished across all of football."

Matt Targett: Celebrations for the Aston Villa ace after scoring in the Carabao Cup semi-final second leg v Leicester
Aston Villa are one of the clubs battling to avoid relegation

The possibility of playing games behind-closed-doors has become greater as the weeks have progressed.

That may be a solution to ensuring that fixtures are played over the summer, but that course of action brings issues of its own.

"It's difficult because it's not just finishing the season it's on what basis that they finish the season," Cramer concluded.

"The million dollar question right now is 'are those games going to be played behind closed doors?'

"That appears to be perhaps the most obvious scenario that we are faced with but you're going to take away medical people from their duties saving lives, taking them out of a scenario where they are needed by the NHS to participate in their duties with a football match.

"A lot of people would question that when, at the moment, those people are needed for more important things.

"We'll see, but I don't believe that anybody has got any magical answers to some of these questions."

Follow Sporting Life on social - find us on Facebook here or tweet @SportingLifeFC

Related football content

Like what you've read?


Sporting Life
Join for free!
Access to exclusive features all for FREE - No monthly subscription fee
Race Replays
My stable horse tracker
giftOffers and prize draws
newsExclusive content