Plans to start the BBL season with some spectators in attendance are off.

The UK Government has confirmed that its proposal to allow fans to return to watch live sport in England from October 1 will no longer proceed after the country’s Covid-19 alert level was raised to 4 due to an increased risk.

Reports suggest that the lockout will continue until the New Year at least.

Scotland is expected to follow suit, with a series of pilot events also now paused.

Last Friday’s scheduled indoor test game between Newcastle Eagles and Sheffield Sharks was switched to a closed door contest with less than 48 hours notice due to tighter local restrictions.

And although the BBL has built in “a good deal of flexibility” in its schedule, the prospect of a sustained absence of any gameday revenue could now force a rethink of its model with widespread acceptance that playing without paying customers for any prolonged spell is ‘not viable’.

“As much as I appreciate the football is the largest spectator sport in this country, it is the other sports which rely heavily on match day revenue that will now be on the precipice of collapse,” said Surrey Scorchers’ director Gavin Baker, on Twitter.

“I fear that this could be the extinction point for many clubs across many sports.”

MVP has learnt that there was divided opinion within the BBL at a board meeting last week over whether to follow the lead of ice hockey’s Elite League and scrap the season altogether due to the uncertainties ahead.

A core group, thought to incorporate London Lions, Newcastle Eagles and Leicester Riders, are said to have strongly pushed for business as close to usual as possible.

However sources stated that Plymouth Raiders’ new ownership was the loudest voice in advocating for a shutdown with the two university-owned franchises, Worcester and Surrey, believed to have expressed some concerns of their own.

A conference call between the eleven clubs will be held on Wednesday afternoon to discuss what may become an existential crisis – and the route ahead.

“There are lots of different options on the table,” a league spokesperson confirmed.

Although some teams have already begun pre-season with full or partial squads, most are understood to have contractual out-clauses in the event of a cancellation. The fixture list, due to begin with the BBL Cup’s group stages on October 2, has not yet been publicly released with some clubs opting not to sell season tickets as a precaution.

“We’re assuring our fans and sponsors that Plymouth are working with all the other clubs and the BBL to find the best possible solutions going forward,” said Raiders director Ross Mackenzie.

“Our view is that all the BBL clubs must have an agreed position going forward and we will be supportive of the majority position.

“But we want what is best for the league, the players and our fans and to have a safe environment to be in.”

A £5 million investment, which may mitigate the financial risk, is currently under consideration.

Additionally, several clubs, BBL sources told MVP, have already moved to set up the online infrastructure required to stream games to season ticket holders or on a pay-per-view basis, as piloted by Newcastle last week.

It is not expected that there will be a centralised service, similar to the old BBL TV, casting doubt on the continuation of screening every game from the league for free on YouTube.

“That is something under discussion,” added a BBL spokesperson.

Photo: MAP

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