John Ingram and Ian Ayre:
TFW your season finally starts, then is indefinitely on hiatus two weeks later
In the midst of a global pandemic, the only honest answer to the ‘when will soccer return?’ question is simple: nobody knows. The containment of the novel coronavirus and its disease, COVID-19, are the priority right now, and there can be no timeline at this stage of the global pandemic. Because of that, professional soccer’s indefinite hiatus remains, well, indefinite.
Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayre isn’t resting on his laurels, though. While he’s been restricted to electronic communication – like the rest of us – he’s stayed in touch with key parties in the soccer world. Dividing his time between league-wide business, communication with member of the franchise’s office and team, and keeping in touch with media and supporters, the thing that is clear is he’s remaining prepared.
“It’s the right level of responsibility to make a plan for all sort of eventualities, and right now maybe every eventuality,” he admitted. “I don’t think anyone can answer the question honestly. It’s like everything that’s going on: when will we be back not locked in home? Those types of things. I don’t think anyone really knows.
“It feels like every two or three days there’s some call at some level – if not every day – where we’re working through literally every scenario. Is it a full season as was planned? Is it a reduced number of games [from what] was planned? With fans in stadiums? Is it a solution without fans in stadiums? Is it in your home stadiums? Is it in another location? I think they’ve alluded to all of that. I think the really important part is to make sure we have thought about and planned for every eventuality, but it’s impossible to know which one it will be.”
The looming spectre of finding a path to a return – but one in which supporters won’t be able to be present – is something that’s on the table. Empty stadiums have been a consideration in every sport (golf appears to be the first sport planning to return without crowds). If Major League Soccer can hasten a return to safe play by holding games without bodies in the stands, it may just be a possibility.
“Whether you’re [MLS Commissioner] Don Garber or Ian Ayre or anyone else – it’s not what anybody wants: I think we can all be assured of that,” Ayre said. “It’s not what anyone’s hoping for. I think if we asked anyone, if that was the only choice, would you rather that than what we’re doing right now, which is no live sports. I thin kit’s a lesser of two evils to some degree. I think if you’re going to plan for every outcome, then you have to plan for every outcome, and even the ones that you don’t really like.
The priority – however and whenever teams return to the practice field, and ultimately the fields of competition – will be on safety. With death totals nearing 150,000 globally, and over two million confirmed cases, this is a virus that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The league and club leadership plan to take every precaution before getting back on the pitch.
The safety of players and staff is a key. So too is ensuring sure the safety of the family and community members they come in contact with after leaving the practice facility. If that means delaying a return in the name of health, there’s an easy decision to be made for executives.
“I think the single thing that I’ve heard from MLS and talking to the CEOs at other clubs, is that everybody puts health and safety at the top of the agenda for anything we’re doing,” Ayre said. “It’s not really just about players: it’s about players who come to a practice facility, and there’s other staff involved – there will be coaching staff, there will be other staff that need to be around – and then all of those people have to go back home to their own families. So nobody wants to do anything that puts anyone at risk. I’m absolutely certain and feel assured from the conversations that I’ve been in that any solution that is decided upon will be done so with the health and safety of the players – and everyone who has to be in and around that process – involved.”
When the game does return, it will only be because the global pandemic is under control. By the time that takes place – when the disease is contained, when the safety of our healthcare workers and others who couldn’t just sit home for a few months is secured, and when life gets back to something approximating normal – soccer can once again become the priority. Nashville SC can finally play its third(!) official game.
Having lost the game just when it had arrived (at an MLS level) in the Music City is a massive blow to Nashville SC’s momentum. However, Ayre is confident that his franchise can gain all of it back.
“The way I look at it and the way I talk to our staff about it is: we built that thing from nothing, give or take,” Ayre said. “There’s been soccer here before, but that day and that journey for MLS to Nashville, and that energy we created and the show we put on, we’ll do it again, and we’ll have to do it again.”
For many reasons, the fans are anxious for the day that can happen once more.