Football clubs in £100 million claims against insurers over ‘Covid losses’

An NHS banner outside Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal, during the Covid-affected 2019/20 Premier League season (Jonathan Brady/PA)
An NHS banner outside Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal, during the Covid-affected 2019/20 Premier League season (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Seven Premier League football clubs are bringing claims against insurers totalling nearly £100 million over losses allegedly suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic, the High Court has been told.

Top flight teams Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Brighton & Hove Albion, Aston Villa, West Ham and Crystal Palace are seeking larger payouts under their insurance policies over the impact of suspended games and matches played behind closed doors when the virus struck.

Insurers, who have already made interim payments of £2.5 million to each club, are opposing the bids for greater sums in a dispute centred around the scope and limits of business interruption insurance contracts, a judge was told.

Leicester City, who were relegated to the Championship last season, are also involved in the early stage legal action brought against insurers Allianz, Aviva, CNA, Liberty Mutual, MS Amlin and Zurich.

Anfield – Liverpool
The Covid-19 outbreak saw Premier League football matches suspended during the 2019/20 season (Peter Byrne/PA)

A brief preliminary hearing before Mr Justice Jacobs over the linked legal challenges was held in London on Thursday, ahead of an estimated one to two-week trial at a later date.

The judge disclosed he was an Arsenal season ticket holder but said he did not think it would affect his ability to hear the case.

In written arguments, Andrew Green KC, representing the football clubs who are bringing their claims through a number of commercial entities, said they had “suffered significant losses caused by interruption or interference to their businesses as a result of decisions taken by the football authorities and government in response to Covid-19 in the UK”.

He said the claims, which were issued in May 2022, were for “loss of revenue” and “the costs of continuing to operate” and related to “lost ticket revenue as a result of the suspension of professional football matches or the playing of those matches ‘behind closed doors’”.

Mr Green said clubs also claimed for “loss of revenue suffered as a result of government measures restricting non-matchday retail and hospitality, as well as loss of revenue from events at stadiums, eg concerts, not taking place as a result of the UK Government’s ban on mass gatherings”.

The barrister said insurers were wrong to argue that the alleged losses should be grouped together under a “single occurrence” of government decisions to stop support for mass gatherings on March 16 2020 or to impose the first lockdown on March 23 2020.

Brighton and Hove Albion v West Ham United – FA Women’s Super League – AMEX Stadium
Football clubs say they suffered ‘significant losses’ as a result of decisions taken by the Government and footballing authorities during the coronavirus pandemic (Kieran Cleeves/PA)

Alistair Schaff KC, representing the insurers, said in written arguments that the total value of all claims on figures provided so far was £98,666,697.

He said that each club’s insurance policy limited claims in relation to “notifiable diseases” to £2.5 million for “any one single business interruption loss”, entitling them to one payment over the March 2020 decisions.

But the clubs have attributed their alleged losses to 22 decisions by the Government and footballing authorities, claiming they are owed multiple payouts, Mr Schaff added.

The barrister said an issue in the case was how the clubs’ losses in the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons were linked to authorities’ decisions, including whether some later losses were “the causative run-off of the original first wave lockdown cases/measures” or were the result of a “second wave” of cases on or around September 9 2020 when insurance contracts had expired.

Such issues will be the focus of a first-stage trial over the claims, with the question of how much money clubs may be entitled to left for a second future trial.

The legal proceedings come in the wake of a 2021 Supreme Court ruling in a landmark £1.2 billion legal battle over businesses’ ability to claim on insurance for coronavirus-related disruption.

The UK’s highest court “substantially allowed” an appeal brought by the Financial Conduct Authority in a test case said to potentially affect around 370,000 businesses over the wording of business interruption insurance policies.

Some insurers had argued policies did not cover the Covid-19 pandemic, but the City watchdog said the Supreme Court ruling “decisively removes many of the roadblocks to claims by policyholders”.