Woodward's overview on COVID-19 response
Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has said he remains "firmly optimistic" about Manchester United's long-term prospects during a call with investors that provided an update on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Explaining that the club was built on adversity, he emphasised the work that is continuing to support the overall response to the virus and discussed the hopes for a return to Premier League action next month, after the players took the first steps of Project Restart by coming back to the Aon Training Complex this week.
With the success of the Bundesliga getting under way again last weekend, there is a determination that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side will be able to resume the campaign once it is deemed safe to do so. However, there will clearly be repercussions to the current crisis - with one confirmed already in the fact that, as expected, there will be no summer pre-season tour for United this year.
"On behalf of everyone at Manchester United, I would like to send the club’s profound sympathies to all those suffering directly from the COVID-19 virus, to those who may have lost family members to this virus and to those essential and frontline workers who, every day, bravely risk infection during this global pandemic," said Woodward. "You are all in our thoughts and we are very grateful for your sacrifice and for your service.
“We have all witnessed the tireless work being carried out in hospitals and other care settings within our local communities and by charities dealing with the economic fall-out from the crisis. We take seriously our responsibility to support these efforts and I’m proud of the way everyone at Manchester United has responded, from our staff, who packaged up 30,000 items of food and drink from club stocks for local charities, to the staff volunteering to cook 60,000 meals for National Health Service staff in Greater Manchester hospitals. These are just two among many examples of how our people are rallying to help, backed by the club and the Manchester United Foundation, which continues to expand its charitable response in the UK and overseas.
“We believe these initiatives are not only the right thing to do, but they are also essential to upholding the club's values with which our fans around the world identify. For that reason, we will continue to work with our Foundation to support vulnerable communities as the social and economic impacts of the pandemic unfold.
“Clearly, the pandemic has caused significant disruption to our operations, including the postponement of all matches since mid-March and the temporary closure of our retail, catering and visitor facilities at Old Trafford.
"While it is too soon to know with any certainty if, or when, those measures can fully be relaxed, we are optimistic that it will soon be possible to resume playing football," he said. "Our men’s first team has begun a phased return to training this week, with rigorous medical protocols in place to manage risks. Subject to Government and Premier League shareholder approval, including input from medical staff and players, we anticipate domestic games could restart again in June. Furthermore, all indications from UEFA are that the culmination of the Europa League could be in August.
“We remain in constant dialogue with the Premier League, the FA and UEFA about the next steps towards returning to play, while continuing to protect the health of our players, staff and the wider public.
“We are encouraged by the return of the German Bundesliga which was the first major European league to restart last weekend, with the successful completion of nine matches, all played behind closed doors. While no one in the football industry enjoys seeing football without fans in the stadiums, the TV audiences attracted to the German matches demonstrates the strong pent-up demand for live football after a two-month absence.
“Players have also returned to training in Spain, Italy, Portugal and several other European countries, all with the aim of completing the 2019-20 season, so there is clear momentum behind efforts to get football going again across Europe’s major leagues. All in all, as we sit here today, as many as 32 countries are expected to restart by the end of June.
“As in Germany and elsewhere, it is now inevitable that our matches will initially be played behind closed doors when the season resumes. This is as disappointing for us as it is for our fans, but we hope it will allow the men’s first team to complete all of its competitions in the current 2019/20 season by the end of August, and to start next season in time to target completion of next season still in May 2021.
“While there are still many uncertainties to resolve, we are looking forward to Ole and the team returning to the pitch soon to defend the strong momentum they achieved with their 11-game unbeaten run in the Premier League, Europa League and FA Cup immediately before the season was suspended in mid-March.
“Our third-quarter results published today reflect a partial impact that the pandemic has had on the club, while the greater impact will be in the current quarter and likely beyond. There are still profound challenges ahead, and for football as a whole, and it is safe to say it will not be ‘business as usual’ for some time.
“Our club is built on a solid foundation. We remain one of the most popular teams in the most-followed global sport and have created a strong financial base with diverse revenue streams. However, the repercussions are already being felt widely across the football community, not just by clubs, but also by players, supporters, broadcasters, sponsors and many other stakeholders. We have a shared interest in protecting our sport during this period, so It’s crucial that we work together in a spirit of solidarity to maximise our chances of coming back strongly as the pandemic recedes.
“We must recognise that this crisis will not disappear overnight and that the world will be different from how it was before. That will create challenges for football, like many other industries, but it also brings an opportunity for innovation and creativity as we explore options for resuming football in ways that still protect public health.
“While nobody is claiming that football is the most important thing at this time, our sport can play a role in helping restore morale and bringing people back together as societies recover. Indeed, the absence of live football, and the unifying experiences it creates for billions of people around the world, has reminded us all of how much the sport means to us.
“With that in mind, we remain firmly optimistic about the long-term prospects for the club and for our exciting, young team once we have worked our way through what is undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary and testing periods in the 142-year history of Manchester United. This club is built on resilience in the face of adversity and those qualities are being proven once again now."
Group managing director Richard Arnold was also keen to emphasise Manchester United's resilience in dealing with adversity in the past.
"While it may not be an exact proxy for today’s crisis, over the course of our 142-year history, this club has endured two World Wars, a global Depression, the credit crunch and a previous pandemic. Resilience is a core part of the club’s DNA, both on and off the pitch. Having worked at United through the credit crunch in 2007/2008, I know that the club will come out of this crisis more determined than ever to achieve, both on and off the pitch."
Chief financial officer Cliff Baty provided more details on the latest figures, which can be read here, as the club anticipates a reduction in broadcasting revenues.
"Given the delay caused by COVID-19 to the playing schedule, we anticipate that the revenues from the Premier League for completion of the 2019/20 season will be reduced, as discussions remain ongoing with broadcasters," he said. "For Manchester United, we have estimated this reduction to be around £20 million for a full season of 38 games. At the third quarter, we have provided for a £15m reduction to our broadcasting revenues to reflect this impact for the 29 games played to date."