Major League Soccer’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic by Major League Soccer evolved almost as rapidly as the actual virus spread across the globe. The league announced on March 12 that they would suspend matches for 30 days to assess the impact of the virus with public health officials and updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By Sunday, March 15, the number of confirmed cases in the United States had more than doubled to 3,487, and the CDC pleaded for all events involving the gathering of more than 50 people be postponed. On Thursday, March 19, one week after MLS enacted their 30-day suspension, more than 15,000 cases were confirmed nationwide, and the league was suspended indefinitely.

Players and coaches have been told to stay away from training facilities unless medical treatment that cannot be administered at home is needed. The league, which was celebrating its 25th season as Major League Soccer, was just two matches into the new season before play was suspended. Despite the league’s precautions and comparatively hasty reaction to the pandemic, one unnamed player from the Philadelphia Union tested positive for the virus. A member of the Seattle Sounders’ support staff and an employee within New York City FC’s sporting department are the only other confirmed cases of the virus that have directly affected MLS franchises.

To off set the early financial burdens that are sure to come with the suspension of league play, top executives of MLS are willing to cut their own wages. MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Deputy Commissioners Mark Abbott and Gary Stevenson will all see their salaries cut by 25% starting April 16. Managerial staffs will see their salaries cut by anywhere between 10%-20%, while lower, entry-level employees will not see any decrease in their salaries. David Tepper, owner of the Carolina Panthers and the incoming Charlotte MLS expansion franchise, has also donated $2.65 million to help the local community with their fight against COVID-19.

On a league-wide scale, MLS has started the “MLS Unites” campaign in which they are partnering the Major League Soccer Players Association to spread awareness on COVID-19 and preventative measures that can be taken to avoid contracting the virus. The campaign involves a three-part plan that will elevate the social responsibility the MLS community has in detaining the virus, educate the community on the virus and entertaining the community through innovative forms of media in the absence of live sports.

While the league has recommended all players and staff refrain from traveling to training facilities, Bundesliga club Bayern Munich may have potentially found a way to implement in-person training while also adhering to social distancing rules.

As of Monday, April 6, Bayern have begun practicing in smaller groups of players rather than the entire team on the field at once. The players are separated by the recommended six-foot distance and, from videos of the practice that have been released, the team are not taking part in any exercises that involve physical contact. Training sessions are not open to the media or public as they usually would be in order to prevent the spread of the virus, but it looks as though Bayern, Eintracht Frankfurt and other Bundesliga clubs will continue with this method of training for the time being.

MLS hope to have league play back in action towards then end of the summer months but with fear of a second impending wave of the disease circulating through the minds of specialists, it will be difficult to pinpoint when exactly play will resume.