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.

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