Non-league clubs, including Hereford FC, are being asked to consider hosting matches earlier as a possible solution to minimise energy and floodlighting bills and the general cost-of-living increases.
Clubs who play within the Isthmian Football League – steps seven and eight of the English football pyramid – have already been told they can look at staging Saturday fixtures earlier than the traditional 3pm kick-off time.
In July, the league’s Chairman, Nick Robinson, advised clubs that in order to reduce energy costs, “particularly those related to floodlights”, Saturday games could start earlier so long as both participating teams agreed.
To allow players, officials and supporters enough time to make “appropriate plans” any changes should be publicised in advance, while the League Office should also be informed “as early as possible”.
Mr Robinson added that while it is a fear of his that league attendances may fall, due to spectators having “less money to spend” this season, he remains hopeful that those who follow non-league football will keep coming through the gates.
The National League are yet to make a decision on the matter but are backing a non-league survey in an effort to gauge the feelings of supporters. Hereford fans are encouraged to complete the survey below.
Mansfield Town are the first Football League club to bring forward kick off times to reduce their floodlight usage in the cost-of-living crisis.
The club’s League Two encounter at home to Walsall on October the 15th will begin at 1pm rather than the scheduled 3pm.
“The club is endeavouring to mitigate the forthcoming, considerable increase in energy bills,” a statement from the club says. “As part of these efforts, the earlier kick-off time will enable the club to discern whether significant savings can be made on floodlight usage and other energy costs.”
Discussions have already taken place on potential responses amid the cost-of-living crisis and gathered some force on Wednesday when a survey of clubs revealed broad support for the idea.
More than 60 per cent of 40 clubs asked by Fair Game, including a dozen from the EFL, said they would consider moving kick-off times for Saturday league games and FA Cup ties in an attempt to reduce their bills, including for lighting and heating.
Cost of floodlighting is currently up 200 per cent. Fair Game are a club-led campaign group set up to address football governance and the financial health of the game throughout the English football pyramid, working with 34 clubs in the EFL and non-League.
Moving kick-off times is not a straightforward decision, as the EFL discovered during their initial talks on the issue at board level because potential costs saved are likely to be offset by lower attendances.
Higher up the pyramid, where the crowds are larger, this will also mean disruption for a greater number of people and a midday kick-off could entail the added expense of overnight travel for away teams. In practice, it could be clubs below the EFL in the pyramid where savings can be maximised by earlier kick-off times.
Sixty per cent of clubs asked also told Fair Game they were considering halting any ground improvements, while 40 per cent may look to cut their non-playing staff budget.
Research from the Fair Game claims that almost two thirds of lower league clubs would consider earlier kick-offs as winter bills surge.
The group, which is campaigning for improved governance of the game, said its research is based on “one club in the Championship, five in League One, six in League Two, nine in the National League, seven in National League North, six in National League South, and five further down the pyramid”.
“Nearly all the clubs surveyed were either concerned or very concerned about the cost-of-living crisis,” the campaign group said.
There is hope that caps on energy bills will help clubs get through the winter, but the situation adds to pressure on the Premier League to finalise its so-called “New Deal for Football”.
The league has been reviewing its distribution models for at least two years, having come under pressure amid the furores sparked by Project Big Picture and the European Super League.
A key part of the new system of redistribution will be based on ensuring some of the cheques handed out to clubs will be spent on infrastructure, such as training grounds, rather than wages.
There will also be a renewed focus on merit in a bid to contain wage overspending at Championship level, with payments on a sliding scale based on position throughout the pyramid.
Other competitions in non-league have already approved plans to bring forward kick-off times.
The Football Association has given permission for several non-League competitions to move kick-off times earlier.
In response to the survey, a spokesperson for the FA said: “The FA and County FAs are not-for-profit organisations that reinvest all of the money made back into football. Our priority over the past few seasons, including through the worst of the pandemic, is evidence of this approach as we worked to support grassroots clubs and the volunteers running them to survive the period and get back on their feet.”
The cost-of-living crisis and its impact upon fans at non-league level is at the heart of a new joint survey between the Football Supporters Association and the Non-League Paper.
With inflation at levels not seen for decades and the rise in day-to-day cost of living putting a squeeze on household budgets across the country, we are keen to see how this will affect attendance and matchday spend throughout non-league, where budgets are at their tightest.
The survey looks to gather data which can be shared with leagues and clubs throughout the pyramid to help them plan for the winter ahead.