Don Garber: “We are concerned about what this will look like leading into 2021 and are working, as I’m sure everybody could imagine, on figuring out how we could manage through that.” (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
As feared, Major League Soccer lost in the neighborhood of $1 billion due to the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic this past season, commissioner Don Garber said in his state of the league address Tuesday.
Garber added that the league could not go through a similar season in 2021 after which teams played without paid crowds for the most part.
“We are concerned about what this will look like leading into 2021 and are working, as I’m sure everybody could imagine, on figuring out how we could manage through that,” Garber said during a video press conference with the media four days prior to MLS Cup. “I am very, very hopeful that 2021 will be a way better year that ‘20, because I don’t think any business could sustain the kind of impact that we sustained in 2020 for two years in a row.”
The 2020 season was a year for the books. Like every other American professional sports league, MLS went into the red and incurred expenses that it could not have imagined or prepared for.
“Not only have we lost a significant amount of revenue, as have so many other businesses certainly in our industry, but we’ve also incurred expenses we were not intending to occur,” Garber said. “We’ve chartered players to every game. That’s not currently part of our [collective bargaining agreement]. We had the expense of managing the MLS is Back Tournament, and while that was able to allow us to capture some revenue, the expenses of housing so many players and operating those games and creating a virtual stadiums were enormous.
“So actually, the impact of all this is probably deeper than what we expected. And that is concerning to us. But our owners have been understanding this impact from the very beginning. We are concerned about what this will look like leading into 2021, and are working as I’m sure everybody could imagine on figuring out how we could manage through that.”
Garber said the league has plans to start in mid-March, although playing in front of crowds is another matter. It will depend on what state a team is located and when and if vaccines can be given to the general public.
Translated: it could take months before crowds of any substances are allowed in stadiums.
“Nobody has that magic date, and it will vary state by state and province by province,” Garber said of having full capacity in stadiums again. “So we need to make a schedule. … We obviously have a lot of work to do. What we can say today, we’re evaluating as we speak. We’re going to need some flexibility, but we won’t be able to wait to make a decision until someone decides fans will be able to attend stadiums. That’s a date that is so uncertain at this point.”