Monday, June 29, 2020

52 Positive Covid tests, MLS

Positive COVID-19 tests are rolling in for MLS in the lead up to the "MLS is Back" tournament next month, ESPN has reported.

18 players and 6 staff members tested positive during local training over the last few weeks and now it has been learned that 26 more players have tested positive prior to traveling to Orlando and another 2 players positive since arrival. 

The two testing positive since arriving at the "bubble" in Orlando is problematic as it requires not only the positive test players to quarantine but other players that have come in close contact as well. According to the ESPN report, MLS has not commented on that.

Summary of positive tests:
24: Return to training (6 staff)
26: Prior to Orlando travel
2: Upon arrival to Orlando

There are no plans to delay or stop the tournament at this time. 

MY THOUGHTS

The league seems hell-bent on holding the tournament. I think if it were up to Garber every player down there could test positive and he'd still hold it. It's probably a matter of the public threshold of how many can test positive. Like, if it starts to fall out of the range of the rest of the area/country. Right now that would probably be around 12+% of overall tests going positive.

Something else that could slow it down is if a popular player gets it and the news pokes out of the normal MLS social media twitter. 

I have two opinions on this whole MLS thing... 1. they are jumping the gun and should have just waited to start later (September) in their normal markets AND 2. MLS is effectively a trial balloon for the rest of the leagues restarting. Namely, the NFL. Where there is a lot of overlap in ownership.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

MLS is Back, Crew fans mad!

MLS released a schedule for their "MLS is Back" tournament that kicks off in a couple weeks. 

There is still an air of uncertainty around the start of the event, but Don Garber seems intent on kicking if off regardless of the real facts and/or narrative around the risks of the coronavirus.

Of course, with the release of the schedule, we have Crew fans getting upset with kick-off times and networks.

That's about all I have in me for this news. As for where I'm at with this event... I think MLS is trying to hard to get things started. ESPN just saw record low numbers for the ESPY's, while viewing numbers for NASCAR, horse racing, and golf are about the same as always. In other words, no massive bump for forcing things back.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Florida Covid Increase, Does MLS have a Problem?

CNN, NY Post, Vox, The Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel, Newsweek, CBS are news outlets that have fresh pieces up on the recent spike in new coronavirus cases in Florida this morning.

Looking at the numbers, it is true. Florida is spiking in new cases, but they are also testing a lot more people. This suggests that the state wants to know if reopening is an okay thing to do. That's good! It also suggests that either more people have always had the virus, they just weren't tested or Florida is in some deep dog do-do.

I've been closely monitoring both Ohio and Virginia since the outbreak, with a focus on deaths. Why that measurement? The one the people say has too much lag? Because I feel that when that figure rests at a very low number for 2+ weeks after re-opening then it may be possible to breathe a little. Both VA and Ohio appear to be close to the other side in that metric.

Early indicators of a new spread show up in other places. Raw new case numbers are a red flag, but more importantly % of new tests that are positive. All three, OH-VA-FL, appear to still be in a decent place with that. All clocking in at or around 5%.

That said, Florida is seeing a % increase alongside its recent increase in testing per day. Over the last few weeks, Virginia and Ohio have been testing around 10k a day. Florida, on the other hand, is testing 30k. Bigger state, more tests, yes. But if you look closely at my chart and the blue Florida line, you'll see it marching up a bit above where it has been.

IMPACT TO COVID CUP

Major League Soccer plans to kick off their Orlando, FL tournament in a couple weeks. With Florida cases on the rise, they might run into some friction. Not only with the general rise in cases, but with the optics of opening among a "second wave."

This might also alert the player's union and possibly cause some players to force their way out of playing (something we are seeing in the NBA). So, it could get messy. Especially if the long-feared second virus wave is matched with new positive tests and reported deaths across the country.

Friday, June 12, 2020

MLS - Covid Cup Details

The groups and stakes are set for a tournament in Orlando, but in splendid MLS form, things are a complete mess.

MLS had hardly just announced a draw format before they provided the first matchup between Orlando City and Miami whatever-their-name-is. A couple hours later the draw happened, but of course more rules. Groups had to consist of teams only from like conferences and instead of groups of 3 with two groups containing 4 (MLS has 26 teams), they inexplicably went with 5 groups of 4 and one group with 6? The image on the right shows how they did it. 

I'll never understand why MLS buries themselves in this stuff. I saw a league employee saying they had no time to put something better together. No shit. You spent 90% of your effort on crafting rules for seeding.

Anyway, the "blind draw" amazingly worked out for the league. Columbus is in a group with Cincy, LAFC with LA Galaxy. Seattle gets Vancouver (tho, no Portland. I guess having all three would look too rigged). Toronto gets Montreal. The as mentioned Orlando v. Miami and I'm sure there is some connection in Group D other than forgotten about teams + Minnesota.

A total of 16 teams will make the knockout stage (top 2 finishers in each group + 4 best 3rd placers).

Group games count towards regular-season standings. The knockout winner gets a ticket to play in the next CONCACAF Champions League + a million dollars.

The 10 teams missing out of the knockout get to go home to families and team training AT THEIR OWN TRAINING FACILITIES. Losers are the winners here.

GROUP A
Eastern Conference
Orlando City SC
Inter Miami CF
New York City FC
Philadelphia Union
Chicago Fire FC
Nashville SC

GROUP B
Western Conference
Seattle Sounders FC
FC Dallas
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
San Jose Earthquakes

GROUP C
Eastern Conference
Toronto FC
New England Revolution
Montreal Impact
D.C. United

GROUP D
Western Conference
Real Salt Lake
Sporting Kansas City
Colorado Rapids
Minnesota United FC

GROUP E
Eastern Conference
Atlanta United FC
FC Cincinnati
New York Red Bulls
Columbus Crew SC

GROUP F
Western Conference
LAFC
LA Galaxy
Houston Dynamo
Portland Timbers

Thursday, June 4, 2020

MLS, Union agree to return

After weeks of back and forth that increased with intensity (including a lockout threat) as time passed, Major League Soccer and the Players Association (Union) finally came to an agreement to return to play at some point in the near future.

THE ORLANDO PROJECT

The plan for return to play is one they have been leaking since the height of the pandemic - an Orlando tournament, of sorts, that has a World Cup feel (maybe?). Group stages with knockout stages. It makes sense since they will have to fit it in a small timeframe of 4-6 weeks with the hope being that after it is over things around the country (and Canada) will have returned to "normal" enough to play in home cities.

Here are a few bullet points: 

1. It will be at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. I've been twice for MLS preseason, it's a neat place. Lots of fields, soccer, baseball, and an indoor center for basketball as well as cheerleading events (which I witnessed, crazy).

2. Teams will / are training in their home cities and will travel down to Orlando shortly before games begin. 

3. Games are not scheduled yet, but multiple news outlets are reporting that games will begin in early July.

4. There will be no fans.

5. Games will somehow count towards the regular season.

Don Garber is hellbent on getting MLS back on the pitch before the other major men's pro team sports get going. So far, it looks like he will get that, but he has missed the target on returning to play before the other major soccer leagues in Europe and will be a step behind the NWSL, who restart June 27 in Salt Lake City.

Soccer League Return Dates:

NOW: Germany is playing
June 11: Spain
June 17: England (Premier League)
June 20: Italy, English Championship
June 27: NWSL

There is some uncertainty around League 1 and 2 in England restarting at all.

MLS V. UNION

Don Garber made it clear that negotiations were intense, which should come as no surprise when you consider the backdrop of national protests and pandemic. It got so heated that Garber threatened to lock out the players.

Ultimately it took a 5% player pay cut as well as some delay in the implementation of the latest CBA (pushed back to next season). MLS will also mortgage the future a bit by lowering media payouts to players over the next few years.

SOME THOUGHTS

MLS really, really, REALLY wants to fill up an ESPN schedule with live sports content before the big boys get back going. The massive success of the Jordan documentary that pulled down NBA, MLB playoff figures, has sports executives salivating at a perceived pent up demand. That said, there does appear to be a few cracks in that argument as ratings on sports already going (motorsports, Bundesliga) have started to level off.

Nobody really knows how ratings will be, however. I think MLS is really trying to cram this event in and there's nothing in the league's history that tells me they can pull this off smoothly. 

Even with ESPN's hand-holding, I think this event will end up costing the league. Not just financially, but in respect as well. It will be nice to see teams playing again, but it will look like an amateur production. No crowds and really low camera angles. The players will also be out of practice and shape and let's not forget - it will be ORLANDO IN JULY. Games will grind to a sweltering halt in the second half. 

Monday, May 25, 2020

Garber Memo about leaks... leaks

The Athletic has been reporting on a steady stream of COVID-19 MLS items in great detail over the last few weeks. From plans to play a tournament (and how) in Orlando to negotiations with the MLSPA - it's all there.

Well, as it turns out, MLS is not directly providing that information like they normally do to get attention. All this information has been leaking out to the press without the authorization of the league and Don Garber appears livid about it.

Last Friday Garber sent a memo (which itself leaked to The Athletic) out to the league that threatened termination and fines up to $1 million dollars for anyone leaking information. Later in the memo it states that Garber has hired an investigative firm to figure out who is leaking information.

Two of the writers at the Athletic have very close ties with MLS. One of them even worked and wrote for MLSSoccer.com. My hunch is that they don't have to go asking for this information, close friends that are likely irritated with plans in Orlando, as well as the proposed and current wages cuts, are passing it along.

MLS ON THE EDGE

Garber added that the leaks could “severely imperil the future of our League.” 

As soon as it became clear that this pandemic lockdown was going to last longer than a couple weeks, I came to the conclusion that MLS was likely going to be in some financial trouble. Gameday revenues are the lifeblood of the league as TV deals still have yet to be more than a small fraction of what others get.

Garber's fury at the leaks is a sign that MLS was likely working out something with ESPN and Disney independent of what the NBA is working on (they want the same thing in Orlando). Not so much a competition, but I think MLS was trying to have a more achievable plan than the NBA. Interestingly, the NBA released a very similar plan within a day of the MLS leak.

With large organizations, the top decisionmakers often don't get the details on their desk until it's polished. They are too busy or don't give two shits what underlings are working on. Now that all the information is out there, everyone at ESPN has a chance to evaluate it and give their two cents (ie. kill it) before it has been completely hashed out. This MLS idea in particular looks far from a finished product.

A basic way to imagine the impact is to think of it as a superhero movie that has a lot of leaks. Or the recent video game leak with the Last of Us 2. In my own career, I've had multiple projects torpedoed before all the kinks were worked out. This happens often with ideas that appear abstract to non-stakeholders.

Once it's out there, EVERYONE will poke holes it in and or steal it. Intellectual property should be guarded well.

It wasn't here with MLS, and they will be paying a huge price.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

MLS All-Star Keepsake

My wife brought a Pringles can home the other day that featured the MLS All-Star game that will not be this year (canceled due to pandemic). Pringles has been a fairly recent sponsor of MLS. I see them tagged in VAR Twitter posts.

The cancellation of the all-star game is significant for MLS as it serves as a type of US Soccer trade show where sponsors, media and league employees meet up.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

MLS is canceling things

MLS announced Tuesday, May 19th, that the All-Star Game vs. a team of Liga MX All-Stars and the Campeones Cup and Leagues Cup competitions have been canceled for this year.

This decision comes after news started leaking out about LigaMX shutting their season down.

None of these events are more than a few years old, but MLS has been making quite a bit of money off staging games that bring in big Liga MX crowds (bigger than regular MLS games).

Don Garber has expressed interest in merging the two leagues amid Liga MX recently suspending their convoluted promotion and relegation system.

I expect the two leagues to attempt to merge ahead of the 2026 World Cup that takes place in the US, Mexico, and Canada.

ANY MLS RESTART UPDATES

Not since last week. There has been no news on either the 20% player pay cut nor the pie in the sky idea of playing a tournament in Orlando.

Sports have started to get going, however. The Bundesliga started back up last weekend. NASCAR held a race. I think there was a horse racing event. Also, there was a charity golf event that hosted many of the sports stars.

MLS, along with MLB, NBA, and the NHL are still in a holding pattern.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

MLS proposes pay cut, reopening

After leaking out a near 50% pay cut a few weeks ago, MLS has submitted a proposal to the player's union to cut pay by 20%. According to ESPN, if the cuts happen on July 1, players would only lose 20% of half seasons pay. The assumption by ESPN is that players will keep 100% of their pay up to that point.

What this means is that players will lose only 20% of half their year's wages. For the league as a whole, that means somewhere around $30m off the top. For a player like Michael Bradley, who made $6.4 million last year, that would mean a $643k pay cut (20% of half a years pay).

I think it's a leap for ESPN (Jeff Carlisle and Noah Davis) to calculate 20% on a half year's pay. I think MLS would sell it as a 10% cut if that were the case so the medicine goes down easier with the MLSPA. My hunch is that this is a straight 20% cut in overall pay.

Regardless, MLS is trying to get the wheels turning on this to stop some of the bleeding.

RE-OPENING

MLS is still only inching back on restarting some sort of season. The last two days we have seen a few different proposals. The one that keeps popping up involves locking players and staff down in Orlando to play games for weeks.

Nothing about this idea passes the first couple of questions. The first being - cost. Most of MLS income comes from game day activities. MLS will go even deeper in the hole with no fans. The second hurdle it can't get over is locking players into a hotel for a long period of time away from families and friends. Never mind that these are 20-30 somethings and there's no way to lock them down.

Ultimately, these ideas are futile. We are still in the middle of this pandemic, not on the other side.

MAKING MATTERS WORSE!

Last thing here is something you've probably picked up on. MLS is negotiating a pay cut while proposing ideas to get back to playing. "Hey employees, I'm cutting your wages and then going to require you to go into a damn moon bubble for a couple months."

Where the heck is leadership in this? It makes no sense. Get ducks in a row about returning to play and then approach players on a pay cut.

I still contend that MLS should push the start of play to the Fall and flip the calendar. There is a great chance that the NFL will officially open the sports country. Let them do it, then start your season in September.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Voices to shut '20 MLS down?

Yesterday, Portland Timbers and Thorns' primary investor, operator, CEO, and member of various committees and boards across the US Soccer landscape said the following via Twitter:

March was bad. April was even harder.  
But I believe May will give us some positive momentum to start a path back. Advancements are close on treatments/therapeutics & data is suggesting Oregon can soon carefully start managing the lifting of local restrictions. 
Stay strong (emoji flexed arm). - Merritt Paulson 

It is mildly surprising is that only a handful of teams have started laying off staff but the "stay strong" sentiment at the end suggests that there may be some wavering hearts among MLS stakeholders.

With reports starting to emerge that suggest that more than 80% of MLS team's revenue comes from gameday activations/activity, it makes perfect sense for investors to look at shutting it down for the year.

The pressure is on, however. Youth development leagues closing for the year along with, now, bottom tier amateur / semi-pro teams in the 82 team USL2 calling it a year and colleges (which supply many of these leagues with players) mulling whether or not to even have in-person fall classes, the writing may be on the wall for the rest.

For loosely held together leagues like (NISA, USL1, NPSL, USASA) logistics of even fielding a roster might even be a bridge too far, let alone playing games.

WHERE IS MLS-COVID

Two weeks ago Don Garber said conversations with the MLS Players Association were just getting started in regards to player pay cuts - but since then it has been silent on the business front (well, until Paulson's tweet).

It's clear that Garber and MLS have decided, at least in the short term, that MLS would try generating forward-looking COVID related content instead of history/past pieces like best player by jersey number, MLS Classics, and endless clips of the old shootouts. It's always a good thing to look forward, but the slight change is a signal that MLS is trying to own the situation they are in instead of just endure it.

Paulson's comments, the silence from MLS and the MLSPA and the shift in content creation leads me to believe that the league is going to hold fast as long as they can in the belief that there will be a way to play games in front of fans.

I believe this puts the league on shaky ground. I don't think fans will be able to watch games this year. The fear of COVID returning in the Fall will be too great and there will be states that enter into another lockdown situation.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

1st hint of open facilities

A handful of states not hit hard by COVID-19 are starting to make plans to loosen recommended restrictions on the stay at home orders and certain non-essential business closures.

There are a few states that are itching to open up earlier than recommended guidelines by a few days but a rundown of what each state is doing shows that most (outside of the Northeast, Northwest, and California) are going to start slowing opening this week (Monday, April 27).

With that news, the NBA is the first league to start opening facilities in areas where the state is lifting restrictive orders. The NBA is being very careful to word things right in order to not draw the ire of politicians. Opening facilities does not mean that there will be practices, just that players can come to work out, yet will still observe social distancing.



Major League Soccer has not floated any ideas about reopening facilities, but it is safe to say that with the NBA doing it - they will follow.

----------------

Here's a quick rundown of MLS teams that might be able to use team facilities in the next week or so (state by state summaries pulled from New York Magazine):

Atlanta United
Governor Brian Kemp has made the nation’s biggest push to reopen in the country. Starting Friday, April 24, barbershops, gyms, salons, and massage therapists can reopen. On Monday, April 27, restaurants and movie theaters can follow. Despite the loosened restrictions, not all business owners will be reopening.

Colorado Rapids
With its stay-at-home order set to expire Sunday, Colorado moves to a new phase called “safer at home” on Monday, with some businesses allowed to reopen for curbside service. Then on Friday, May 1, personal-service and retail businesses can reopen with strict social-distancing measures in place. Bars and restaurants will remain closed to in-person dining at least until mid-May.

Minnesota United FC
Starting Monday, April 27, some nonessential businesses will begin to reopen in Minnesota. An executive order from Governor Tim Walz applies to “workers in non-customer facing industrial and office-based businesses who cannot work from home,” he said. Walz estimated that this would put 80,000 to 100,000 people back to work.

Nashville SC
Restaurants in Tennessee will be allowed to reopen on April 27, and retail stores on April 29, provided they operate at 50 percent capacity. The loosened restrictions from Governor Bill Lee will apply only in Tennessee counties without their own public-health departments, meaning large cities including Nashville, Memphis, and Knoxville will be allowed to set their own timeline.

FC Dallas / Houston Dynamo
Friday, April 24, will be the first day Texas businesses can offer “retail-to-go” services. This will allow nonessential retail businesses to make sales online or over the phone and deliver products curbside. Governor Greg Abbott has said he will make announcements about additional openings on Monday, April 27.

Columbus Crew / FC Cincy
When the state’s stay-at-home order expires on April 30, Governor Mike DeWine has pledged to begin “a phased-in reopening of the state economy.”

----------------

There are likely going to be some issues around competitive advantage coming along with this. I'm sure that team personnel has already been in and out of offices throughout the lockdown and that means that players have been in as well.

Competitive advantages aren't always in regards to practice and working out. It is also resolving contract issues, bring players back into town to be ready to go. Player evaluations. Etc, etc.

I have a feeling that most will open facilities back up for employees and players within two weeks of this first group but getting the wheels turning for a few of these teams will give them a little edge over the coastal areas that are likely weeks and weeks off letting things open.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Columbus Crew lays off staff

Posting this via bizjournals.com Columbus, Ohio portal.
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With MLS season postponed, Columbus Crew lays off staff, cuts pay

By Hayleigh Colombo – Staff reporter, Columbus Business First

Apr 24, 2020, 5:04pm EDT Updated Apr 24, 2020, 6:32pm EDT

Dozens of Columbus Crew SC staffers will receive temporary pay cuts starting next month because of financial hardships caused by the suspension of the Major League Soccer season.

The Crew has also laid off 11 sales staff members, or 12% of its full-time workforce of 90 people, according to a source with knowledge of the team, and has also instituted a hiring freeze. Seven of the 11 people laid off were temporary workers.

The team is owned by billionaires Jimmy and Dee Haslam, who also own the Cleveland Browns, as well as local orthopedic surgeon and longtime team physician Pete Edwards and his family. The Crew does not release its revenue, but Forbes estimates it to be about $18 million annually.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted all of our lives, including every business and sporting organization across the country," Crew General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko said in a statement. "In light of this environment, it has become evident that matches played in front of fans are unlikely in the immediate future based on local and national health restrictions. This has forced us to make some extremely difficult decisions that we do not take lightly and are not reflective of the quality of the affected individuals or the magnitude of their contributions."

The pay cut applies to less than half of the Crew's employees. More than half of the employees will not be subject to pay cuts because their earnings are not high enough, according to the source. The salary reductions will be between 10% to 20% of a staff member's salary, with higher-paid staffers taking bigger cuts.

The Crew's decision does not affect players, who are unionized. However, the MLS Players' Association is currently in negotiations with the MLS over a "drastic" pandemic-related salary cut, ESPN reported last week.

The Crew is not alone in its cost-cutting moves, which are occurring shortly after MLS' announcement that play will not resume until June 8 at the earliest. MLS team Real Salt Lake announced job and salary cuts earlier this month. And D.C. United has furloughed some of its workers.

The Crew's salary reduction will be reevaluated in the fall, with the reductions likely reversed if the Crew is able to start playing again with audiences, the source said.

The reduction of 11 sales staffers comes as a result of the Crew's decision to create efficiencies between its Crew sales staff and the staff at Legends, a New York-based planning, sales and hospitality agency. The Crew and Legends inked a deal in 2019 for Legends to handle commercial sales rights for the team's planned Arena District stadium.

That sales staff reduction had been a previously planned decision, but the move has been "accelerated" as a result of the challenging environment, Bezbatchenko said in the statement.

Crew staff members learned about the cost-saving moves Friday.

"Throughout this period, our staff has continued to be tremendous in managing adversity caused by this virus, and we appreciate their resilience," Bezbatchenko said in the statement. "During this challenging time, our thoughts continue to go out to all those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in our community and across the world.”

NFL Draft Record TV #'s (Ohio is a football state)

Moments like this current pandemic reshape our sports world. Both World Wars and baseball. The rise of urban culture in the 70's and 80's and the NBA. The 94 MLB strike that propelled the NFL to the top. And now? The COVID-19 pandemic leaves us with...

the NFL at the top, still.

Last night's start of the 2020 NFL Draft was the most viewed in league history at somewhere close to 16 million. That's like a World Series AND NBA Final's game wrapped up in one.

It's tough to say where we will be next month, let alone late summer when the NFL gets going. But one thing is for certain - the NFL will be king.

Also. Ohio loves the GRIDIRON



Combine this with the huge numbers for the Michael Jordan documentary and it's easy to see that there is a good deal of demand for sports in this strange time. I see the industry folks getting pretty excited but important to remember - there are a lot more people just sitting around at home right now.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

USSF DA Dead (Crew)

Last week (aka a lifetime ago) US Soccer announced the abrupt shutdown of the decade-old "Development Academy (DA)" for youth players. This event is worth mentioning because the Columbus Crew Academy was officially a DA program for U14 to 19-year-olds.

Shortly after the public announcement by US Soccer, Don Garber and MLS issued a statement that said they would pick up the slack in MLS areas. So, the Crew will likely just transition over to whatever MLS calls the new academy.

Open questions are things like - What becomes of academies not near MLS cities and Will MLS even have the money to run these types of things in a post-pandemic world - are still open because nobody seems to care enough to ask them or think them through.

On a personal knowledge note, I've never been close enough to the Crew Academy to really speak in-depth on it. I DO KNOW, however, that it is an insular group filled with relatives, coaches kids, former player's brothers, and assorted players that were selected from expensive pay-to-play programs.

Take from that what you will.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

New Youth Structure, MLS to Cut Salaries

Last week brought out big news in MLS's little corner of the globe. Both items will have lasting impact on what the league looks like down the road.

1. USSF shut down its Development Academy program - all at once. MLS swooped in and announced that they would be picking up the slack and seemingly just slap their name on most of the teams USSF is no longer funding.

This is a surprising move because the next day...

2. MLS is exploring plans to cut player salaries more than 50%" in total. MLS Players Association figures tell us that the league spent about $290 million on player wages last year. Now, MLS's (reported) proposal to their Union is a little creative in that they want to cut everyone making over $100k by half (and not let anyone making over $100k dip below that). Quick math tells us that the new MLS wage bill would be $156 million.

During a 34 game season that is about $4.6m a week vs $8.5m. At this point, even with the best scenarios, MLS will not be playing a full schedule but they offered an olive branch the union by saying they will not cut down further even if the season is canceled.

I am skeptical on that last part, but it is possible because MLS has to somehow retain players through till next season (8 months) to avoid completely rebooting rosters.

MLS IN DENILE

Don Garber is still once of the only commissioners holding on to expected re-start dates. I've stopped tracking it, but I think it's now sometime in June. I'm not sure if that is wishful thinking or what. Large gatherings of more than 20 will probably not be in place by then, let alone enough to squeeze in full team training sessions. Playing games?! Even in empty stadiums? That's a pipe dream until late summer.

THE ONLY HOPE FOR DON

The only hope the team sports world has of getting anything going is if the governors decide that sports are an essential business and EVEN THEN it will likely follow a pecking order that allows the NFL and MLB to get going.

There simply aren't enough healthcare resources to fire up all sports all at once. Even if there were, can you imagine the optics of sports teams testing thousands a weekend? The entire state of Ohio is only able to test 2,600 people a day. That's likely how much a few NFL games on a Sunday would take.

So, here is my updated 2020 sports projection:

- Fall college sports? Cooked!
- MLS, NWSL, USL, ALL THINGS SOCCER - COOKED.
- Golf... not cooked.
- MLB? Will probably schedule a few games.
- NHL, NBA, WNBA - Cooked till fall at best.
- Bowling? Not cooked.
- NFL... will likely get to play somehow.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Pro US Leagues Too Optimistic

It's not hard to come across one of the major pro sports leagues in the US offering out some outlandish idea on how to get going. ESPN (if anyone is still watching) gives just about all of them some air to breathe simply due to having not much else to talk about. From there you see the social media trial balloons that get bounced around. Eventually one or two might make their way to the major TV networks for a laugh.

The fact of the matter is this - It is becoming increasingly clear that sports will look completely different for at least the next two years.

THE GRAND RE-OPENING

The Atlantic has a clear thinking piece that lays out how things might be able to reopen. It's worth a read, even if you are consuming just about everything COVID-19. In it, they ask the question: “Everyone wants to know when this will end. That’s not the right question. The right question is: How do we continue?”

This process might take several weeks to unfold, and even at the end of it, none of the experts I spoke with was comfortable with the return of crowded public spaces. Gottlieb’s road map, for example, recommends that until a vaccine or an effective treatment is produced, social gatherings should be limited to 50 people or fewer. That will be especially challenging in large cities: An average Manhattan street or subway car is the equivalent of a mass gathering. Elsewhere, concerts, conferences, summer camps, political rallies, large weddings, and major sporting events may all have to be suspended for at least this year. “It’s hard for me to imagine anyone going to Fenway Park and sitting with 30,000 fans—that will almost surely be a bad idea,” said Ashish Jha, an internist and public-health expert at Harvard. “This isn’t going to look like a normal summer in America.”
That's a generous quote, but important to the world of US sports. No matter how you slice the timeline, "the norm" of consuming sports entertainment is likely over. No league will reopen it's doors to large crowds for the foreseeable future (meaning: years) for insurance purposes alone, nevermind the collective fear most people will have in regards to getting sick.

We may see clunky endings to European soccer leagues and perhaps even the NBA in this calendar year, but from a future-thinking perspective - the pro party is over. Salaries will be completely slashed and stadiums will be burdens on local cities.

Leagues (and cities that have teams) should plan for this now. I've been keeping an eye out for someone to think realistically instead of trying to shoehorn in games in Las Vegas or Arizona. I've yet to see it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

COVID-19: MLS Making Cuts

Big MLS news from ESPN:

"MLS announced last week that it cut the salaries of its top three executives, including Garber, by 25%, while also reducing management and other staff pay."

A couple more notes:

- Don Garber expects teams to start cutting more office staff and wages in the coming days and weeks.

-  Garber also expects discussions to happen in and around player wage cuts.

Not to minimize the impact to front office staff, but player salaries are the biggest concern for MLS. With other leagues starting to have realistic plans to open the season back up (Germany, namely) next month, MLS knows it has to do everything in its power to pay players because if they can't? They risk losing them to leagues in countries that are in better shape in regards to the coronavirus.

It is impossible to predict the future of live sports in the US right now. The most important item on the menu is easily when MLS can get back to playing and that date doesn't even exist yet by a long shot.

Chaos will reign if MLS has to cut wages or even furlough players. Cats and dogs and lawyers everywhere. Expect to see which team investors are in this for the long haul and which were in it for a quick buck by May 1.

PREDICTION TIME!

I think MLS will cancel its 2020 season and let players that can move to other leagues or back home - go (over 50% of MLS are foreign players). The rest of the players who decide to stay will be on furlough until 2021 and locked in with their teams until then.

Don Garber, like other league commissioners, keep throwing out optimistic dates and/or outlandish ideas to get games played. I have bad news for them. Games aren't happing on US soil for a long time.

I think when fans are eventually allowed to attend games there will be restrictions on how many can attend and, quite possibly, only fans that have been vaccinated or sign some sort of release form can go (a release that requires testing after the game and possible quarantine, etc).

Vaccination is likely still a year or so off.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Clown: A Poem for the True Hearts of the Beautiful Game

Clown

By: Vidda Grubin



Dressed in polished black shoes
Suit and tie with bright breast,
The Clown pointed at numbers
And puffed out his thin chest.

He rang a bell, “Ding! Ding!”
Rubbed his knob like a king,
Sneered and jeered “Hisss, Hisss,”
And on the commons took a piss.

To the likewise minded vultures
He shouted, “Look at the Rubes' culture!”
“They march mindless paying dues,”
“And play ball in cleated shoes.”

The vultures gathered round
Eager to listen to the sound
“Cha Ching! Cha Ching! Cha Ching!”
Of money and Blingy, Bling, Bling.

Middle finger to lips
The Clown whispered “SUM tips.”
“I will dance for the Rubes,”
“While you tie USSF’s tubes.”

Bloodsucker’s bald head
Disguised the MLS gizzard of dread.
On dead presidents SUM feeds,
While the beautiful game bleeds.

The Clown, full, yet unsatisfied
leaned out the window of his golden suite
And with nose turned to the sky
Asked the Rube one question…

“Where did you get such a dirty face,
My darling dirty-faced child?”

The Rube, hair hanging in his face
Sweat and blood dripping down
On the torn turf beneath his feet
Picked up the worn ball and answered

“I got it from fighting for my place in the team
And singing with mates in the pub about dreams.
I got it from risking my club standing brave
And putting myself on the line offside’s grave.
I got it from being a part of the whole
And digging down deep inside of my soul.
I got it from owning small clubs in small towns
And battling my way through bloodsuckers and clowns.
I got it from days on the field with friends
And sitting on bleachers watching a magic ball bend.
I got it from refusing to close myself off from the world
And painting bright colors on my face for a girl.
I got it from mud, dirt and grass stains
And playing when down, hope lost and in pain.
I got it from running, kicking and tears
And from having more fun than you’ve had in years.”

The Clown’s eyes narrowed
His thin lips trembled
His tiny hands shook

Screaming in agony
The Clown spit on the Rube

And ran off confused

The Rube smiled
Brushed the spit from his face
Turned to his mates, ball still in hand
And on the field took his place

Sunday, April 5, 2020

MLS In Trouble

As the social distancing clock ticks onward it's becoming increasingly clear that major sporting events might not be played for quite some time.

Donald Trump pulled together a large contingent of pro sports commissioners yesterday to talk about possible futures. Not too much is known about the meeting, but Trump does indicate a desire to get things rolling again. How? Who knows.

Meanwhile, in Germany, they are preparing the people for this to continue on for the duration of 2020. In Michael McCann's latest for Sports Illustrated he suggests that this will possibly alter things for years to come.

The blowback is already being felt on a team level. Every day there is news about a club like Liverpool cutting wages or stories about loss of TV revenue if the season isn't finished.

In the United States, leagues fall under a more corporate umbrella. Meaning it's a "we all survive or we all die" type approach. To my knowledge, no players or coaches have had wages cut from the major leagues thus far (MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA, MLS). However, in talking with some industry folks it seems like the wheels are turning on dropping office staff until things get going again.

A QUICK CRYSTAL BALL LOOK-IN

MLB: Things hit right before opening day. I have a feeling they will take a mulligan on the season. Perhaps, if possible, play a few closed-door games in the fall. They likely have a massive war chest and can survive a season off.

NFL: I think they will do anything to play, but doing so in front of 60-80k fans isn't going to happen. At best, I see them trying to force the door open to play games in front of small groups of fans, but the likelihood of that is tiny. NFL can survive either way.

NHL, NBA: Both were just a couple weeks off finishing their season so a lot of the revenue from TV probably kicked in. They likely needed it. I don't think they could last (in current form) if a season was called off.

MLS: I believe this will be devastating. About a third of their revenue comes from gameday activities and I do not see any part of the 2020 season being played. With a number of high profile stadium builds going on and many other cities on the hook to somehow support the teams with (severely diminished) local taxes... it's going to be hard to fire everything up as it was. Salaries will have to be slashed and a fresh round of capital will be needed. In effect, restarting the league but with a whole bunch of existing cost.

UPCOMING TV DEALS

They only two that need highlighting here is the NFL and MLS. Both leagues have negotiations going on now in advance of expiring deals in 2021 and 2022. With broadcasters hemorrhaging money right now because of the lack of live sports it is difficult to tell what will happen.

Everyone wants to get sports back on TV, like granddaddy Johnson liked to say, "If there ain't money there, there ain't money there."

The NFL will likely soak up most of the broadcast dollars (to say nothing of a number of College Football deals coming up) so MLS is in a world of hurt and will need support to restart.

Compounding the issues for MLS is that half the league's players are not from the United States. If other leagues start playing games, what will/can they do to try and keep players from leaving? For example, in training is still going on in Sweden where restrictions aren't as tight and reports out of China are that things are slowly returning to normal.

Lastly, and further compounding things for MLS is that the league is propped up by it's marketing arm SUM. They profit not by MLS, but by international tournaments and the Mexican National team matches played in the United States.

With the other major sports leagues (and college athletics) I can see a way forward, even if the impact of COVID-19 is felt for years. For MLS and a potentially lost season? The future is very murky. And that's not good.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

How to get PPE to Hospitals



Since the start of the pandemic here in the United States, we have all heard the calls for PPE. Now, PPE is not a term I have ever heard outside of my warehouse employment, particularly Amazon (CMH2, DCM1 AMZL). PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment.

THE PROBLEM

PPE items are running out or are out at hospitals all across the country. In particular masks, but other basic items that you see healthcare professionals wearing during this event. I'm not terribly concerned with the exact type or model numbers of what is needed here, just the logistics of getting it to the people that desperately need it.

The current set up (if you can call it a set up at all) is not working.

HOW IT WORKS NOW

Everyone orders online. That's basically it. If it can't be delivered then we get the modern "OMG WE ARE OUT." I see this from a lot of younger nurses and doctors - which then gets picked up by the news. The result is that if it isn't available on Amazon or Walmart then there is a global shortage because that's all most people know now.

The truth of the matter is that online shops are not vetting who gets important materials/items and who doesn't. So, it just disappears quickly when it's posted that there is inventory - it is a free for all. This is a problem because the people that need it most don't have time to park themselves on Amazon.

Before the advent of online shopping, we had to call ahead and load up in a car and drive to find it. That's was a giant pain, yes, but (the positive was) stores could easily control who got things and who did not. We are seeing a version of this already with specific hours for seniors.

THE SOLUTION

The US can use physical stores as mini storage centers.

Work with CVS and Walgreens. Supply their physical stores. The government should direct this activity and work directly with the big box stores to stock the areas in most need. Employees at the physical stores (preferably pharmacists) can work directly with the local network of hospitals in the area.

We don't have time to set up some sort of goddamn ERP inventory system before we get this going. Simple phone calls, barcodes, and spreadsheets worked for generations and they will work here.

CVS and Walgreens get a warehousing %. Amazon Delivery, UPS, FedEx, USPS can deliver to the stores, depending on the origin of the items.

CVS and Walgreens vet the buyer before selling the item, ensuring that it goes to where it is most needed.

Between the two stores, there are almost 20,000 locations in the United States.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Inserting an extra layer of governmental control is not something I particularly like, but it's necessary here to ensure PPE and any other items get to the people that need them most. We have the manufacturing capacity in this country to meet demand, especially on paper products. It just requires a little extra admin.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Top Rated Crew Performances

Last week I covered the only perfect "10.0" for Crew players since WhoScored started recording it in 2013, so today I'm just going to list the top 20 Columbus Crew performances since WS started tracking.

YearRoundRatingName
20171210.00Justin Meram
201536-P9.91Kei Kamara
201669.86Justin Meram
2018349.74Gyasi Zardes
201699.62Kei Kamara
2015339.62Federico Higuain
2016129.53Ola Kamara
2016289.50Ola Kamara
2014339.40Aaron Schoenfeld
2015249.39Kei Kamara
2013249.33Federico Higuain
201579.28Ethan Finlay
201835-P9.24Federico Higuain
2013299.20Chad Marshall
201735-P9.20Zack Steffen
2017189.17Federico Higuain
2013279.15Justin Meram
2019169.15Pedro Santos
201339.15Gláuber
201529.13Justin Meram

This is out of 3,553 tracked game performances. That's the top 0.5% listed above. Justin Meram and Federico Higuain are tied at 4 each in the top 20.


Coronavirus and Columbus

Children's Medicine
I reckon a post about what's going on in and around Columbus, Ohio during the Coronavirus pandemic is something I might regret not posting down the road.

CLOSED (and Open)

Restaurants, bars, sporting events, K-12 schools, universities, standing within 6 feet of each other, etc are all closed or canceled. Citizens have been ordered by the governor to stay home. But that's a nice to have. Amazon, Walmart, Target, grocery stores, coffee shops (take out only) are still operational. With the big box stores, their distribution networks are still functional. As a matter of fact, they are growing. That means employees at those cavernous warehouses, delivery drivers, truck drivers, EVERYTHING is still going.

If you travel on the roads you might not notice any difference in traffic at first. It kinda looks like it does when school lets out for the summer. But if look at IT a little closer, especially at peak rush hour times, you can tell it's less. My estimate is about 30-50% fewer cars and trucks on the road.

FEWER CARS, COOLER WEATHER

This probably deserves its own post, but I'll never get to it (if I'm being honest with myself). COLUMBUS IS A SUV CITY. Meaning, huge growth in this town has run alongside the modern sport utility vehicle. What this means is that new roads, city and town planning, EVERYTHING is built around large cars.

Walmart - TP and Paper Towels
Delivering for Amazon really opened my eyes to this. If you haven't been here, Columbus is not so much a "city" as it is a massive collection of suburbs. The go on for seemingly ever. In older suburbs, you see the classic layout with smaller roads and culdesacs. Outside of the smaller houses, one way to tell it's an older community is the number of cars. They are everywhere. Why? The kids you had when you moved in 20 years ago are now teens and you gave them cars.

Newer communities are enormously wide streets that wind safely around. Included are even spots for the giant SUV's that resemble yachts to turn around. I favored these as a delivery driver, but it is incredibly wasteful.

Regardless, Car City Columbus roads are now only about half full and I've noticed a slight change in the weather towards the cooler side.

Weatherman and women are almost always correct these days. They might miss on how long it will rain or the temp by a degree or two, but that's about it. But when I was working a job in 2018 that required me to travel out to Perry County, Ohio a lot I noticed that without fail, it was about 5-8 degrees cooler. This area is only about 30 miles away. That shift in temp might not seem like much but it is. 82 degrees in Columbus was 75 degrees in towns a little East. Or 36 degrees and rain in Columbus was 28 and snowy in New Lexington. It made a difference, and I saw it.

With the weather in Columbus this last week, it was about 5 degrees cooler than the weather people forecasted each day. What that meant is that last Sunday they were saying the week was going to be in the 50's and then by Friday get to 70. Instead, it was 40's Monday to Wednesday with frosty mornings and 50's Thursday. Yesterday (Friday) was correct, but we got a hellish storm that nobody saw coming.

I believe this is because there are fewer cars on the roads. I've always believed that car traffic and impact local weather a great deal and Columbus is a perfect example. Not just the pollution, but the heat coming off the asphalt. Like firing up an oven to heat the house.

ANYWAY

As for our little family of my wife and our 3-year-old, we are doing well. A long-planned trip back (for me) to Virginia is about to happen this coming week. Yesterday was our daughter's last day in daycare (still open) as we start to prep our move.

We spend most of our time in the house "social distancing" with occasional trips to the store. I'll post some pictures of grocery shelves so we don't forget the panic buying that's going on.

Video games, a few movies, writing, soccer analysis, taxes (yay!), and watching government officials on TV is the daily routine.