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 Columbus, Ohio portal.

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.


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 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!
- 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 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.


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


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.


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.


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.