Major League Soccer may soon be returning to action, but that does not mean all is perfectly well.
Shortly after the MLS Players Association announced it had agreed to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that would result in the resumption of play, league commissioner Don Garber held a videoconference to talk about the news on Wednesday. Garber spoke about a number of topics during the call, including just how big of a financial loss MLS will experience as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Major League Soccer will take a billion dollar revenue hit due to the pandemic,” said Garber. “That’s a function of lost revenue that, regardless of what we are able to do, is going to be nearly impossible to generate at the levels that we need.
“Our previous business plans and certainly the basis for the negotiation of the CBA were based on what the expected business for Major League Soccer would look like over the next five years. Obviously, that has changed.”
Garber refrained from going into too much detail over how MLS will restart, but confirmed that a tournament will be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. Garber added that he could not divulge much as of yet because all the details for the event had not been finalized.
The league commissioner said the original plan to play there was “twice as big as the one that has been settled on, and as such the revenue even associated with that has been dramatically reduced.”
Garber also briefly touched on the production of matches in the competition.
“We’ll have more cameras on this broadcast than would be on a typical Fox or Univision game,” said Garber. “There will be more access to audio and views in this broadcasts than would be in a typical game, and we’ll be able to utilize some technology to be able to deliver value to our teams that we’re experimenting with in these broadcasts.
“It is an enormous expense and it is a big challenge for our players. I fully accept that going away from home and competing in a tournament for a maximum of 35 days is not an easy ask.”
Easy or not, Garber stated this had to be done out of necessity and is why he solely made the decision to threaten a lockout over the weekend if a deal could not be made.
“It’s not something I did without a lot of thought and a lot of concern and a lot of understanding as to what impact that would have to our players and the negotiation,” said Garber. “But it was something as the leader of this league that I believed was necessary to get to the point today that we have reached an agreement.”
The top MLS executive also expressed uncertainty as to when games will be able to resume in every market. He stated he was more optimistic today about the possibility of doing that than he had been when the season came to a halt on March 12, but could not provide a timeframe for when each team might be able to play again in their respective cities.
“This process started three months ago and I would’ve told you then the likelihood of returning into our stadiums was zero,” said Garber. “I feel today as more and more states are opening up, at least appear to be opening up, there’s more of a likelihood that that might happen. In how many states affecting how many teams? We have no certainty at all today.
“What I will tell you is that everything that we do will be within the accordance of local health authorities and we’re not going to do it unless we can assure the safety of our players and the safety of our team administrative staff and operational staff.”
Major League Soccer’s goal is to finish the 2020 MLS season within the calendar year. There is a possibility that some playoff games could be held in 2021 if things continue to get pushed back because of COVID-19, but not regular season matches.
The immediate focus is on the Orlando tournament. It will mark the league’s return to the spotlight after several months away from it, and the opportunity to win back supporters, and generate some revenue, too.
“This has forced us to come up with a plan that we can ensure at least allows us to get back in front of our fans,” said Garber, “because unlike the other leagues, their fanbases are deeply matured and have been around for generations. Our absence created a void in their lives and their love and care for our players and our clubs.”