Covid-19 pandemic boots Vietnamese football where it hurts

By Hoang Nguyen   August 5, 2020 | 09:45 pm PT
Covid-19 pandemic boots Vietnamese football where it hurts
Duoc Nam Ha Nam Dinh players during a V. League game against Hai Phong FC on June 23, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa.
With football frozen again after it returned for nearly two months following the first wave of Covid-19, domestic clubs have been pushed more firmly on to the back foot.

Opinion was divided between cancellation and continuation when the Vietnam Football Joint Stock Company (VPF) decided to discontinue V. League 1 as the pandemic resurfaced in the country late last month, but there was one concern that all clubs shared – their dire financial health.

No spectators, no money

In the V. League, clubs with strong financial support from their wealthy owners like Hanoi FC, Viettel FC or Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) can go through this pandemic without worrying too much about the loss of revenue from the games. But for clubs that mainly survive on selling match tickets like Duoc Nam Ha Nam Dinh, the cancellation or even postponement of the tournament is a big blow.

Nam Dinh’s home ground, Thien Truong Stadium, often welcomes about 15,000 fans per game, the highest attendance in the league. The ticket price for attending a match in Thien Truong ranges from VND10,000 to 70,000, which means the club can collect up to VND1 billion ($43,280) for each of their home games. They also sell season tickets that cost VND500,000 to 800,000. The loss of this revenue stream by further postponement can prove devastating for the club.

Although HCMC FC is not in the same boat as Nam Dinh, the Covid-19 pandemic has struck them hard too. They are the most active club on the transfer market of V. League 2020 with big signings like striker Nguyen Cong Phuong, Brazilian midfielder Alex Monteiro de Lima and Senegalese defender Papé Diakité. Just before the resurgence of community transmission of the novel coronavirus, they had signed two more players from Costa Rica to strengthen their squad.

HCMC planned to make up for these expensive signings by increasing their ticket price by 1.5 times to VND50,000- 150,000, but it’s most likely that the club will suffer a considerable income loss this year, unlike last season when they earned an average of VND2 billion per home game.

When the league is postponed, overheads persist. Clubs still have to pay the players because the season isn’t over yet. Accommodation, meals training and other expenses add to the burden.

A clear glimpse into the situation happened back in March when all football competitions in Vietnam were suspended due to the first outbreak of the virus. Many clubs had to cut down the salary of their players to survive that long break and now they will have to do it again.

Thanh Hoa FC had their reason when they proposed to cancel V. League 2020. For clubs with strong finance like Saigon FC or Viettel FC, they have a backup fund used for situations like this. But for Thanh Hoa, things are getting really difficult for them.

"In each season, Thanh Hoa FC has spent about VND25 billion on bonuses for the players and VND3.2 billion a month on salary, accommodation, meals and transportation for the team. These expenses were supported by the province’s budget and other enterprises. If the league stops now, we don’t have to waste VND3.2 billion in August anymore. But if it continues like this, I think VPF should give the clubs financial aids," said Thanh Hoa FC President Nguyen Van De.

Thanh Hoa FC (in yellow) plays Hoang Anh Gia Lai in a V. League match on July 23, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa.

Thanh Hoa FC (in yellow) plays Hoang Anh Gia Lai in a V. League match on July 23, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa.

Quang Nam FC President Nguyen Hup said his club can save up to VND13 billion ($562,600) a month if the league is called off right now.

"Our club spends VND10 billion a month on bonuses for the players, in which half of that money is for three foreign players. Each of them received about $80,000 a month. Other expenses such as salary, accommodation and meals cost about VND3 billion. We can save a big amount of our budget if they cancel the league this August," Hup said.

However, looking at the big picture, Vietnamese football can lose more than gain if the league is stopped this year.

Tran Anh Tu, General Director of VPF, said: "Canceling the league right now will cause massive financial damage, because VPF has to respect the contracts with sponsors, or else we will have to compensate a huge amount of money to them. Moreover, our reputation with the sponsors will be ruined and they might not invest in the league next year. Without money, football leagues cannot be operated."

Problem with players

Normally, V. League starts in February and ends in October. After that, players who are out of contract with their clubs can find a new place and the clubs can find a replacement on the market. But at the moment, no one knows when V. League can be concluded, when the first leg is not even finished.

If the league is extended beyond October, there will be some real problems for the clubs. When the contracts of some players with the clubs expire in October, some teams will face a crisis and be forced to either extend the contract with the players or buy new ones, which will cost them another amount on the budget.

"Shortage of players is a big issue if the league is extended. In addition, more financial burden will be put on the clubs because they will have to keep paying the players if the league still takes place after October 31, the expected date that VPF set for this season to conclude. But no matter what, HCMC FC will always follow the rules and we want the leagues to be completed in safety," HCMC FC head coach and president Nguyen Huu Thang said.

Vietnamese football is facing a dilemma, as either canceling the league or continuing it will cause considerable financial damage to the involved parties. The only hope now is Vietnam will control the pandemic as soon as possible, so that the knots can be untied and football can return one more time.

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