SBC recounts the traumatic months of March and April 2020, as the deadly coronavirus spread across Europe, leading to nationwide lockdowns and the cancellation of sports fixtures across the world.
SBC – COVID-19 shocks signal that 2020 will be no ordinary year…
As COVID-19 triggered what has been described as an ‘unprecedented’ situation, the betting industry was forced to enact immediate contingency plans, closing down retail estates and ordering their employees to work from home en masse.
Italian bookmakers triggered an early warning to the betting industry, as the government enforced an immediate nationwide lockdown to all retail businesses, stating that Italy had entered its ‘darkest hours‘.
Trying to prepare for the unknown, GVC Holdings issued a statement to the market, underlining that continued Ladbrokes Coral retail closures would burden the FTSE firm – stating that the company expected to incur a £45-50 million per month EBITDA reduction.
Despite pleas for financial assistance, betting leadership was left in the cold, as Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak confirmed that HM Treasury’s Covid ‘business relief programme’ would not cover gambling enterprises.
But as the UK was forced to enter the first of many lockdowns, betting leadership upped its commitment to player protection by agreeing to the Betting and Gaming Council’s (BGC) COVID responsibility mandate. As a result, all BGC members suspended all national broadcast advertising during the UK’s lockdown period.
Helping bookmakers navigate a period of uncertainty with severely limited betting markets. Sportradar announced the launch of its ‘Simulated Reality Games’ delivering a new range betting category matching real-life sports engagements.
Though burdened by COVID, the industry’s deal-making abilities was not constrained as April’s close saw Flutter Entertainment Plc complete its $11 billion acquisition of Stars Group Inc.
Insider Sport – COVID brings sports to a standstill
The world of sports was dealt a significant blow in March when it was announced that various sporting events would be indefinitely postponed or suspended to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
In English football, the FA made the decision to suspend all football until 30 April, leading to months of uncertainty as to whether the league would restart or be cancelled entirely for the year. Various other sports including horse racing, greyhound racing and major boxing fixtures soon followed.
The much anticipated 2020 Tokyo Olympics was also pushed back by 12 months after the Olympic Committees of Great Britain, Canada and the US refused to attend the set date. However, in their joint statement, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and International Olympic Committee (IOC) Chairman Thomas Bach revealed that the Olympic torch would remain in Japan to serve as ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’.
By April, there were glimmers of hope. Towards the end of the month, Italy’s Serie A and Germany’s Bundesliga announced plans to resume football matches on 9 and 18 May respectively. The Bundesliga also revealed plans to provide its clubs with much needed financial support. On the other hand, the English Cricket Board (ECB) postponed professional cricket matches until 1 July.
However, one major story which gave sports fans a much-needed break from COVID-19 news in April was the proposed £300 million takeover of Newcastle United FC by a Saudi-backed consortium, which was met with great anticipation by Magpies fans but scepticism by others.