Hours after the MLS Players Association announced its membership had ratified a new, amended collective bargaining agreement, MLS Commissioner Don Garber took to the virtual podium Wednesday afternoon to address the new CBA, the resumption of league play and what to expect when soccer resumes.
Garber’s press conference was a welcomed change from the statements the league office has released since the regular season was suspended on March 12. While those focused on training moratoriums and postponing events, Garber’s comments Wednesday were about bringing soccer back.
These were some of the key comments from the commissioner’s address:
Garber: “The winner here is the league is going to go forward.”
The overarching takeaway from the CBA getting approved is that soccer is back.
While players are practicing at club training facilities, they’ll begin relocating to Orlando later this month to compete in a return-to-play tournament.
Details of the event aren’t finalized, but players, coaches and fans can expect MLS to resume play next month.
“While I can’t give any further specifics on that Orlando concept, that was a very, very big part of our discussion with players,” the commissioner said. “Both the discussions on the extension of the CBA and the discussions on our return-to-play plan would have been difficult under any circumstance, certainly any normal circumstance. But when trying to do this … under the circumstances we were all negotiating in is unimaginably difficult.
“Despite all this, thanks to the leadership of our union and the leadership of ownership for working hard to try to reach an agreement. We were fortunate to be able to finalize an agreement.”
The ratified CBA will now run through the 2025 season – which is a one-year extension from what leadership agreed to earlier this year.
But the move offers stability for the league, players and ownership moving forward.
On trying to return to a new normalcy
Despite Garber saying MLS cut hundreds of millions in league-wide spending, the league is still one that earns most of its revenue from gamedays. Between the suspended season and games not being played and the prospect of playing without fans in the stands later in the year, the league has lost millions and millions of dollars already, with more losses expected as the year progresses.
“Major League Soccer will take a billion-dollar revenue hit due to the pandemic,” he said. “And that’s a function of lost revenue that regardless of what we’re able to do, is going to be nearly impossible to generate at the levels that we need.
“We really don’t know what it’s going to look like going forward.”
And we don’t really know what the match atmosphere will be like when games resume in Orlando. With teams secluded in the Citrus Capital, a league that prides itself on having fun, passionate atmospheres at games will have to settle for matches without fans.
“We’ve been working for the last four or five or six weeks to ensure that the product we put on the air is going to be compelling,” Garber said.
He also mentioned that fans can expect more camera angles and audio than typical league broadcasts would include.
“Unlike the other leagues, their fan bases are deeply mature and have been around for generations,” he said. “Our absence created a void in the in (fans’) lives and their love for our players and our clubs. But clearly our absence from the sports scene was really crucial for us to get back.”
Garber on games potentially returning with fans
The top storylines from Garber’s call are focused on playing in Orlando, which makes sense given that it’s officially on and is a first-time event.
That said, the commissioner also discussed the possibility for regular-season games being played in teams’ home markets. That would mean FC Cincinnati could play at Nippert Stadium at some point in 2020. Will there be fans, though?
“This process started three months ago and I would’ve told you then the likelihood of returning into our stadiums is zero,” he said. “We feel today that as more and more states are opening up, or at least appear to be opening up, there’s more of a likelihood that that might happen.”
He added that every MLS game moving forward will only be played if sanitary and health protocols are in place that offer safety to players, team employees and fans. He also added, "The task is monumental, as we accept that for the most part, those games will be played without fans."