LONDON (Reuters) - The government's decision to halt the return of fans to sporting events in Britain because of a surge in COVID-19 cases could have a devastating impact on the soccer industry, according to Tranmere Rovers chairman Mark Palios.
After a difficult year caused by the pandemic, clubs were looking forward to having 25-33% capacity crowds back from Oct. 1 but British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Tuesday that would be postponed, perhaps for as long as six months.
While Premier League clubs enjoy huge broadcasting revenue, further down the soccer pyramid match-day revenue is vital to keep club finances turning over.
"It's not entirely a surprise, but it is going to be a devastating blow for an industry that's already been really struggling with the COVID pandemic," Palios told the BBC.
"There were a lot of things that made the football industry unique and a lot of clubs were already having financial difficulties before this pandemic started and this may sadly tip some of them over the edge."
While Palios insists fourth-tier Tranmere can ride out the crisis, he fears many clubs will not.
"There are other clubs who were living hand to mouth before this started and I fear this may be the nail in the coffin for some of them," he said.
A coalition of more than 100 sports bodies -- including the tennis, cricket and rugby governing bodies as well as the Premier League -- had called on Monday for emergency funding in the light of the expected development.
Steve Evans, manager of third-tier Gillingham, said Premier League clubs should help.
"We do need the Premier League or government, or whoever it is, to step in and help out football clubs that would go to the wall if that is not forthcoming," he said. "We have waited long enough, is it is time for the Premier League to help us."
The Football Supporters' Association said fans felt safer in football stadiums than in other social situations that remain largely unaffected by the government's rule-tightening.
"Feedback from our members at test events has confirmed high levels of compliance with all the health and safety measures put in place," FSA chief Kevin Miles said.
"Having fans at games is of course not only important to the lives of supporters, it is also crucial to the survival of so many clubs who play a crucial role within their communities."
Gloucester Rugby Club chief executive Lance Bradley said the news was disappointing after his club ran a successful pilot programme last week with 1,000 fans at Kingsholm for a game.
"Everyone at Kingsholm on Monday was socially distant, so they were no closer to anybody than they would be if they went to a park or anywhere else outside," he said.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge)