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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.