Don Garber: “We have no exposure to what those numbers going to look like though. I can assure you that I don’t have any sense that, that fans are going to be in our stadiums in large numbers for probably most if not all of the season.” (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Even with a vaccine rollout for COVID-19 that is on the rise on the daily basis, Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber fears that the stadium won’t have fans “in large numbers for probably most of it not all of the season” and that the league could lose in the neighborhood of $1 billion.

MLS announced that it was moving the start of the 34-game regular season back two weeks to April 17 after the league finalized its Collective Bargaining Agreement with the MLS Players Association Monday.

“We are encouraged by the rollout of the vaccine under the new administration,” Garber said about the Biden Administration during a Wednesday afternoon ZOOM conference call with the media. “We obviously have challenges in Canada. We really don’t have any exposure to it at all. I was pleased to see fans in the stadium at the Super Bowl in Tampa, and I was pleased to see limited numbers of fans in some of our stadiums including in Columbus for MLS Cup. But we have no exposure to what those numbers going to look like though. I can assure you that I don’t have any sense that, that fans are going to be in our stadiums in large numbers for probably most if not all of the season.”

No fans will mean little or no revenue for a league that lost $1 billion last year. Losses could be duplicated this season.

“The good news here is that we have worked on a new long-term agreement that allows us to recoup some of the losses over time from the losses that were going to occur,” Garber said. “This year and we are forecasting to lose pretty close to that billion dollars if not a billion dollars that we had been talking about.

“When you don’t have fans for the majority of your season … it’s just pure math. So that being said, our owners have been very focused over a long period of time to build the league. But their resources are not unlimited. We’ve got to drive revenue. We’ve got to think about new ways to approach our business. We’ve now achieved stability long term with a new CBA.”

Garber said the league must find creative ways to drive revenue in Soccer United Marketing, MLS’s marketing arm, and SUM’s partners with U.S. Soccer, Concacaf and the Mexican Football Federation.

“We’re looking at how do we continue to expand on those relationships so that we could continue to work together to drive the growth of the sport,” he added.

“I think you’re seeing some positive results on the player development front and that’s a new achievement for us and it’s something that we’re excited about. But that requires a lot of investment that certainly hasn’t been something that’s necessarily paid off. But at least we can start seeing that there’s real opportunity in player development over the years to come.”

Player development would be continuing to sell up-and-coming young players to European clubs for millions of dollars.

Another challenge is the three Canadian clubs. Since there are differing pandemic policies between the United States and Canada, teams cannot travel freely between the countries.

Those teams are Toronto FC, FC Canada and Vancouver Whitecaps FC. They are expected to start the season playing in the USA.

“What is going on in Canada is very challenging,” Garber said. “We continue to work with our teams to engage with the Canadian authorities, Health Canada, their version of the CDC on this issue. We’re going abide by whatever the rules are as established by Health Canada. But, as you can imagine, all three of our teams are working on alternative plans as to where they’re going to be certainly in the short term, playing their games, because it doesn’t look like we’ll have immediate exposure to this in the near term. I feel for our Canadian clubs and i feel for our players. It’s a big challenge.”