Two days after ratification of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the MLS Players Association, MLS commissioner Don Garber said the league expects to lose “pretty close” to $1 billion in 2021.
Garber was speaking to reporters on a Zoom call, primarily to highlight the new CBA. The deal will save the league anywhere from $53 million to $110m during the life of the agreement, though Garber declined to specify an exact amount.
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The commissioner added that with the vast majority of fans still unable to attend games due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the impacts of COVID-19 were still having an adverse effect on MLS’ business.
In December, Garber claimed that MLS sustained a $1bn drop in revenue in 2020, though league sources later amended that statement to “nearly $1bn” in losses.
“We are forecasted to lose pretty close to $1bn, if not $1bn, that we have been talking about,” Garber said about 2021. “When you don’t have fans for the majority of your season, it’s just pure math. So that being said, our owners have been very, very focused over a long period of time to build a league. But they’re their resources are not unlimited. We’ve got to drive revenue. We’ve got to think about new ways to approach our business.”
The fact that MLS succeeded in reaching many of its goals during CBA negotiations led to conclusions that the league came out on the winning side. Garber took issue with such a characterization.
“This agreement is not about the league and the players winning or losing. It’s about the game winning,” he said. “It’s about getting our players back on the field for our fans and our partners and continuing Major League Soccer’s 26th season.”
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On Monday, MLSPA executive director Bob Foose told ESPN that the current relationship between the union and the league is “transactional,” implying that there is less of a feeling of collaboration between the two sides than in the past. Garber disagreed with that characterization, though he did admit relations with the MLSPA could be improved.
“We do need to work harder collectively — not just the league — but we need to work collectively to have a better relationship with our union,” Garber said.
Garber was also asked about the impact continued travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada will have on the league’s three Canadian teams. At one point last year, the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps were forced to set up home bases in the United States.
“Right now, our focus is trying to get an understanding as to when our [Canadian] teams can play in their home markets,” Garber said. “And in the event that they’re not able to, as our season is in front of us, having them have homes in the United States, where they’ll be able to do sort of like they did at the end of last year, to be able to play their own matches.”
The commissioner added that MLS is “really close” to being able to announce where Canadian clubs will be able to play.
Garber stated that the start of the 2021 MLS regular season will be pushed back until April 17, though it wasn’t clear what impact that would have on other key dates, such as the opening of training camp.
Earlier this year, MLS took over the sales process for Real Salt Lake. Garber said the process had taken “a little bit of a pause during the pandemic,” but that it is ongoing.
“We’re very, very actively involved,” Garber said. “I would say that I’m optimistic that we will find new ownership for the club, but we haven’t put a timeline on it, we’re just really, really focused on having those discussions and engaging with local people.”
With Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban declining to play the national anthem before games, and with the NBA stating earlier on Wednesday that it would require teams to do, Garber was asked about MLS’ anthem policy. He noted that nothing had changed, nor did he expect there to be alterations.
“When we do not have fans in the stadiums, we will not have a national anthem,” he said. “But when we do have fans in the stadiums, we will have the national anthem, and is that’s not something that I see changing.”