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Notebook: Don Garber provides MLS update

In the immediate aftermath of the resolution of Major League Soccer’s labor negotiation with its players association, League commissioner Don Garber met with the media this afternoon. Here are some relevant notes of interest from the chat.

  • Due to the delay in resolving the labor dispute (10 days), the season will begin two weeks later. The season’s start has been pushed back to April 17, after being previously-scheduled for April 3.
  • The Covid section:
    • While Garber is optimistic that normalcy will return after the pandemic, the national situation means that full stadiums will not be happening for “most, if not all” of the season. That’s obviously especially painful for clubs that have had limited opportunity in their history to host games with fans. “To get back into stadiums and not having any of your fans? It’s just really really upsetting. I feel for the fans, and staff, and players in those markets.”
    • The league’s business will lose close to the projected billion dollars again in 2021.
    • Teams will not request to get their players vaccinated ahead of their respective jurisdictions’ normal policies. They will be vaccinated as those vaccines become available for younger, healthier people around the country. “We have not put our players or staff in front of any other body who is in need of the vaccine. That’s something I felt very very strongly about.”
    • MLS will not mandate player vaccinations prior to play at this point. Teams will have the authority to make those decisions for now. That may change in the future, but it’s unlikely: “We have not made any decision on whether we’re going to require vaccination of our players. I will say I can’t imagine a world where we would.”
    • Teams will continue to travel exclusively via charter until the pandemic is over (inshallah). Once that benchmark is cleared, the terms of the CBA’s policy on charter flights will kick in. But “as long as we are managing through the pandemic, we expect to travel our players, our teams through charter flights.
    • League will work with Canadian clubs’ ownership and HealthCanada to determine if/when they’ll be able to play in the country. An announcement on their early-season bases (a la last year’s setup) may be coming soon.
  • There is no answer yet on what criteria will be used for qualification to the US Open Cup (with only eight bids for MLS and 24 US-based MLS teams), or for other competitions going forward, including future editions of the Concacaf Champions League.
  • The national anthem will continue to be played before games with fans in attendance. This was the policy implemented during the return-to-play last year.
  • There are two longer-term priorities for the league office:
    • Renewing a TV deal, with the current partnerships with ESPN, Fox, Univision, and TSN (along with international rights packages) lasting another two years.
    • Youth initiatives and expanding the business of MLS. “We’re deeply focused on academy, facility, and stadium development projects.” Those are areas in which individual teams haven’t all profited yet, but are important in the long run.
  • Former Real Salt Lake executive John Kimball remains the Chief Business Officer of that organization for now. There is no timeline on the league’s sale of RSL.

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