Major League Soccer is keeping with the times. The ongoing MLS suspension of games has been extended to at least May 10.
Although MLS is now targeting the middle of May to resume play, that isn’t set in stone. Furthermore, it could be even longer before fans can attend matches.
Details on the latest MLS suspension extension
In a news release Thursday, MLS announced it has moved its target date back to May 10. The release specified the latest coronavirus guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the primary reason for the extra delay.
In accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance to postpone events involving more than 50 people over the next eight weeks, Major League Soccer has extended the postponement of its matches during this period of time. MLS remains focused on playing the entire 2020 season and is evaluating all options, including pushing back the end of the season and playing MLS Cup in December, as the league did prior to the 2019 season. The league is also identifying other available dates. Throughout this process, MLS will continue to prioritize the safety of our fans, players, employees and partners and to coordinate with federal and local public health authorities as well as other sporting organizations.
As the statement notes, this is still a fluid situation. If the CDC adjusts its guidance to extend that eight-week period, for example, MLS might extend the delay accordingly.
On top of that, there’s no guarantee that just because play resumes that venues will welcome fans back right away. MLS matches could be played with no spectators in attendance for a while.
This move not only keeps with the latest CDC guidance but aligns with the actions of MLS’ peers, as well. MLB announced it won’t resume play before May, for example.
Those are the two factors that will likely guide when MLS resumes playing and when the stadiums open to the public again. MLS has a great amount of flexibility here.
Why MLS could adapt to this situation on the fly
The scale of MLS actually works in the league’s favor in this situation. Two specific ways are MLS’ broadcast situation and stadium deals.
Local, not national broadcasters, have the rights to most MLS matches. That means rescheduled matches will have fewer events competing for air time.
Likewise, most MLS franchises play in dedicated stadiums. Because of that, a significant delay in the season shouldn’t affect their ability to host matches in their normal venues.
At the same time, resuming play won’t be as simple as picking dates on the calendar. There are considerations like ensuring all clubs play an equal number of matches before MLS Cup play begins.
In addition, MLS needs to stay cognizant of what’s going on with the 2020 Summer Olympics. Many of its players intend to represent their countries on Olympic sides.
MLS likely won’t resume play or allow fans into those venues until the CDC says it is safe to do so, however. When that guidance comes, MLS should be able to act quickly to resume the 2020 season.