Manchester United's money-men are preparing for a doomsday scenario of empty stadiums for up to SIX months after football re-starts.
And they aren't alone with many leading clubs believing mass gatherings and a return to capacity stadiums of up to 75,000 fans may not happen until NEXT year when a vaccine may be widely available.
Like many top clubs, I understand United's financial planners are building various strategies to copy with a long-term absence of crowds from Premier League games.
And it's believed the worst scenario could even extend beyond February 2021 as the world battles to bring the deadly pandemic under control.
Clubs believe the sanctioning of huge sporting crowds for football matches will be the last of the lockdown planks to be removed.
Medical advisors to the Government say lifting restrictions to allow big crowds at sporting events would represents a big danger to the Covid-19 outbreak gaining another foothold – and they aren't willing to take that risk for several months.
United's financial position is more robust than many clubs but senior club officials are acutely aware crowds may not return to Old Trafford and other stadiums for months.
And executive vice chairman Ed Woodward and his management team are factoring that scenario into their financial forecasts as they try to find a way to mitigate the on-going damage.
A source said: “It's highly likely there will be no spectators allowed at football games for several months until either a vaccine is available or coronavirus is brought under significant control.
“The prospect of seeing full stadiums at Premier League grounds just isn't going to happen anytime soon and clubs are aware of that.
“It would be reckless if clubs didn't budget for that happening. The realism is that the prospect of crowds returning to football is a long, long way off.”
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