After the winter break, the Polish top tier football league, Ekstraklasa, resumes the games financially secure and without any match overdue.
Thanks to having regulated the cooperation with the broadcasters and partners, the company has already handed over a total of PLN 146 million to the clubs before the start of the spring games in the pandemic season 2020/21. This is all money from the pot for the centralised media and marketing rights of this season not linked to the sports outcome, as well as funds for the coronavirus testing. The clubs received PLN 2 million from the league to this end. The main tasks for Ekstraklasa in the coming months include completing the games on time, further developing of the league OTT platform, vaccinating the players and getting prepared for the return of fans to the stadiums.
- Thanks to continuous planning, anticipation of possible scenarios and risk areas, and cooperation with the broadcasters, our league is weathering the pandemic crisis very well. We are not threatened by clubs going bankrupt, there are no conflicts or partners withdrawing from cooperation. We have managed these challenges much earlier. Owing to this, we can enjoy a relative stability today and we could transfer, ahead of schedule, another part of the money to the clubs during the winter break. We also helped many clubs earlier in the season to apply for support from the government programs, which partly helped to bridge the liquidity gap after the loss of the matchday revenues in this season too. As a result, the clubs knew what resources they would have at their disposal, and it must be appreciated that they developed frugal budgets on that basis. All of this makes us optimistic about the beginning of the second part of the season, which we are entering without any overdue matches, financially secured and with an increased comfort, in terms of the time schedule, in case there is a need for changes to the match calendar. We are also launching new projects that will cover not only the remaining part of this season, but also the next ones - said Marcin Animucki, President of the Management Board of Ekstraklasa.
In the 2020/21 season, consisting of 30 match-weeks, clubs are to receive a total of PLN 225.5 million. As part of the payments that Ekstraklasa already made to the clubs, all funds not related to the sports result in the current season, i.e. 65% of the total pool, have been transferred. The remaining funds will be paid after the end of the season when the Champion of Poland will be known. Ekstraklasa has also provided the clubs with funds for tests for coronavirus in the total amount of PLN 2 million, including a higher-than-budgeted sum of PLN 400 thousand for antigen tests.
In 2021, for the first time in the history of Ekstraklasa, the players will start the new round in January; in agreement with the clubs, the games will start on 29 January, which gives the league gains an extra week should it turn out necessary to postpone matches in a pandemic. Also, it will be for the first time that the transfer window opens in January, with players being made eligible to play from 25 January to 24 February. This has afforded the clubs with the opportunity to plan their personnel moves well in advance.
- The examples of Jakub Moder or Michał Karbownik show that with good performances in Ekstraklasa you can earn a transfer to the league from the world’s top ones. Polish clubs are able to earn well on the players they have trained, and owing to this also to make interesting incoming transfers - added Marcin Animucki. Clubs are preparing for games under the sanitary and medical regime introduced last year. Players and members of the coaching staff are regularly tested; in particular, all players who resume the training with the team are being tested for coronavirus. Currently, antigen tests are in widespread use in clubs, with the PCR tests also used where necessary. At the same time, Ekstraklasa estimates that about 40% of the staff (players and coaching teams) has already gone through the COVID-19 infection. Currently, the league is waiting for the opportunity to vaccinate players.
- Our main goal is to complete the games on time. We still have to keep in mind the risk of a possible third wave of the pandemic, but today we feel more confident because we have many months of practice behind us that have shown that our strategy with a restrictive zero zone, frequent testing and monitoring of players health is the right one. The autumn wave of infections, which also swept through the clubs, positively verified this system and confirmed that the procedures are tight - no club was an outwards source of infection; problems were contained in time and all backlogs were made up in the regular round. Importantly, none of the coronavirus-infected players or members of the coaching staff were hospitalised, although some needed time to regain the strength for sport. And this is an element that we will take into account when arranging the schedule also in the spring part of the season in case of postponing matches. It is not enough to get rid of the risk of infection, we also have to protect players from complications. However, we have an extra week of reserve, we will also be able to play on the dates set by UEFA, because the cup matches will not start until 9 p.m. Therefore, if we managed to cope with the tight deadlines and a large number of postponed matches last autumn, the spring games should also be finished on the scheduled date in May, i.e. the 16th of May - said Marcin Stefański, the Chief Operational Officer of Ekstraklasa.
Undeterred by the pandemic, Ekstraklasa continues its development in the business and technological terms. An important project planned for the coming months are works on the Ekstraklasa.TV platform, the company's own video-streaming service, which provides the fans with access to match broadcasts abroad - in countries where no exclusive media contracts apply. A tender is currently underway to select a new technology partner to operate and develop the platform.
- An own portal and an OTT application are tools that will become increasingly important in the digital world and with the changing media consumption patterns. We have our own plans and ambitions in the area of technology and we want to put them into practice in cooperation with the new partner. Thirty Polish and foreign companies have applied for our tender and we have qualified several of them for further talks. Our new technology partner should be selected soon - announced Marcin Animucki.
Apart from Ekstraklasa.TV, Ekstraklasa is also increasingly reaching out to their fans abroad thanks to agreements with broadcasters – currently, fans from 17 territories outside Poland can watch the games of the PKO Bank Polski Ekstraklasa on TV. Some of these agreements have already been extended for next seasons, and some talks are still underway, but the decisions will be made before the end of the games.
- On top of that, we are preparing, in the organisational terms, to fans returning to the stadiums. Last season, Polish fans returned to the stands as one of the first in Europe. It was possible thanks to dutiful preparation, presentation of a sound plan to the authorities and good cooperation with the administration and the PZPN (the Polish Football Association). Importantly, neither then nor in the autumn did any of the stadiums become an outbreak of coronavirus. Today, we have months of logistical and organisational experience as additional arguments, the vaccination programme is also in our favour. We realise that a lot depends on the epidemiological situation in Poland, but we hope that fans will be able to return to the stands when the green and yellow zones are set up in the country. We hope that with favourable conditions, PKO Bank Polski Ekstraklasa will play with live cheering still in this season. We will certainly do everything we can to make this hope come true – declared the President of Ekstraklasa.