English football is facing the "collapse of the national league structure" unless clubs receive emergency help, ministers were warned on Monday.
A letter to culture secretary Oliver Dowden co-signed by a group of prominent figures including two former Football Association chairmen, paints a stark picture of the financial crisis engulfing the game.
The government announced last week that plans for spectators to return to sports venues from October 1 had been scrapped due to a spike in coronavirus infections.
Clubs in the English Football League (the three tiers below the Premier League) stand to lose £200 million ($258 million) this season if they are required to play the whole campaign in empty stadiums.
EFL chairman Rick Parry has warned that some clubs "are on the brink" of collapse.
Monday's letter, whose signatories include former FA chairmen Greg Dyke and Lord Triesman as well as a number of lawmakers, said time was running out.
"Without any plans being made to rescue football clubs, many in the EFL and others in the National League as well, are now actively preparing to make all but essential staff redundant, cease playing, close down their youth academies and community foundations, and put their business into administration," the letter says.
"This could lead not only to the failure of many historic community clubs, but the collapse of the national league structure that we have known for over 100 years."
The situation is critical, the signatories say, with many clubs unable to meet their payroll obligations for next month.
Dowden believes the wealthy Premier League should step in to help lower-league clubs.
But the signatories point out that top-fight clubs also "face swingeing losses from lost ticketing receipts and falling revenues from broadcasting matches".
The letter refers to the £1.5 billion rescue package for Britain's arts sector in July.
"We believe that football, like other well-loved professional sports in this country, is also a cultural activity," the signatories say.
"We would ask that the government now make clear what financial support it's prepared to give before it is too late."