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EFL clubs consider kicking off games much earlier in bid to stave off huge energy bills

EFL clubs are having to consider kicking off games much earlier than usual on matchday in bid to stave off huge energy bills.

Lunchtime kick-offs for weekend league and FA Cup matches is being considered by clubs in the Football League and the wider football pyramid to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, a new survey has found.

60% of 40 clubs – including 12 EFL teams – surveyed by Fair Game over the last few weeks said they would consider earlier kick-offs to help reduce energy bills as the hours of daylight diminish, if they were given permission.

The Government has pledged to support businesses with rising energy costs, but it is unclear whether this will benefit football clubs or how long any support will last, and concern about the cost-of-living crisis among clubs outside the top flight remains high.

Overall, clubs rated their concern about the cost-of-living crisis at seven out of 10, rising to more than eight out of 10 among League Two teams.

60% of the 40 clubs are considering halting ground improvement work as a result of the crisis, while 38 per cent are preparing to look at their non-playing staff budgets

Bradford City CEO, Ryan Sparks, has said that bringing the games forward to an earlier time may help with costs such as floodlights once the winter months set in.

He told the Sunday People, “It’s going to be very expensive and unavoidable and it’s obviously impacting budgets across the EFL… We are already taking measures to reduce our impact on the environment but also not to further reduce our energy usage, such as the use of solar power.

“There is a suggestion within the game that we could move kick-off times, in the winter months, to 1pm on a Saturday and that’s something we would consider.

“Floodlights are expensive to run and when you add that up over the best part of 20-30 home games, the costs are heavy – and that’s only one area of energy demand.

“We have made our thoughts known to the Football League about referees requesting that floodlights are used in recent games, which I find unacceptable given what we’re all about to go through and the clear demand to protect the environment.”

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EFL club chiefs are worried the cost-of-living crisis could force some clubs out of business.

Bosses have told The Mail on Sunday they fear rising energy costs are just ‘the tip of the iceberg’, with some clubs braced to see their bills quadruple.

One chief executive at a League One club said: ‘Up and down the country you have CEOs going to their owners to ask for more money but this time it isn’t for a 20-goal-a-season striker, it’s to pay the gas bill!’

He added: ‘It’s a huge issue and we are all over it but, truthfully, I’m not sure how much we can do. It’s almost too late.’

The Isthmian League, three steps below the Football League, have told their member clubs they can schedule kick-off times earlier to save electricity by not using their floodlights.

Premier League clubs have already been questioned for turning on their floodlights during 3pm kick-off games.

Forest Green Rovers owner Dale Vince, a green energy tycoon, believes Football League clubs should be able to survive the brutal rises but fears they could spell the end for some non-League teams if the Government does not step in. He has called for a price cap on North Sea oil and gas producers.

‘Football clubs have energy bills like anybody else,’ Vince told The Mail on Sunday. ‘Some football clubs are about the same size as a small business and there’s been no Government support for that sector at all. It’s going to be a much bigger problem at non-League level. Bills are tripling. They simply can’t find the money.

‘This energy bill crisis is just a taste of the chaos that is going to happen if we don’t deal with things properly. The key to all of this is Government action. And we haven’t had any yet.’

Vince also believes clubs will ‘struggle to afford water in the not too distant future’ due to the climate crisis, which will further impact running costs.

‘Take the droughts in Britain. Watering a pitch is expensive and increasingly this won’t be done for us by normal rain, we’ll need to use mains. Sewage rates are linked to water consumption so you drive two bills up.’

Forest Green revealed the energy bill for their stadium last season was around £90,000 and they expect that figure to triple — despite the club generating all their own electricity with solar panels and wind turbines.

Another EFL club told The Mail on Sunday their annual utility costs were set to go up by £85,000 a year but even that depended on finding some ‘major’ ways of running the stadium and training ground more efficiently.

One club may cancel their conference and banqueting packages due to the rising operating costs mean it’s not worth the risk of losing money.

The impact the energy crisis will have on supporters will also have an effect. Football finance expert and host of Price of Football podcast Kieran Maguire believes fans are ‘thinking twice’ over attending football matches.

For many clubs down the league, gate receipts bring in about a third of their income.

One chief executive added: ‘Some would go to football as opposed to putting food on the table but that is the minority. A vast number of people will have to cut back, which can only have a negative impact on attendance and, if not attendance, at least secondary spend on food and drink and shirt sales.’

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