MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott said that the league is aiming to start the 2021 season in early March.
A report from the Sports Business Journal previously stated that the league was considering an April start date due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, because of the crowded international calendar — which will include the CONCACAF Nations League finals, the CONCACAF Gold Cup, qualifying and possible participation in the Tokyo Olympics, and the start of World Cup qualifying — the league is targeting a more traditional start date for the beginning of the 2021 campaign.
The 2021 season would begin without utilizing a bubble and have teams play games in home markets, though that could change. Presently, the pandemic is showing no signs of abating in the United States. According to the New York Times, there were 163,402 new cases reported on Nov. 12, with the seven-day moving average of new cases at 134,078 per day.
The 2020 MLS regular season began on Feb. 29, before it was suspended in early March because of the coronavirus.
“Based on the crowded international calendar next year, we are targeting to start our season in early March as usual,” Abbott said in a statement to ESPN. “The restrictions on our ability to have fans in our stadiums this year contributed to very significant financial losses. Like all leagues, we are concerned about those restrictions continuing for a second year and are continually evaluating how to manage through the impact of the pandemic in 2021.”
A source with knowledge of the situation indicated that due to the ongoing pandemic and its financial impact on the league’s bottom line, MLS has sent a procedural notice to the MLS Players Association that would preserve the league’s right to invoke the force majeure clause that was added to the Collective Bargaining Agreement last June.
The source added there is no intention to invoke the clause at this time, and the notice only allows MLS to do so at some point in the future. A force majeure clause allows either side to cancel the CBA in the event of catastrophic event like a pandemic.
MLS declined to comment regarding the force majeure clause. An attempt to reach the MLSPA for comment was not successful.
Last June, MLS commissioner Don Garber said that the league was set to suffer a $1 billion revenue hit. The source added that exact numbers have yet to be tabulated.
With fans only allowed to attend MLS matches on a limited basis in some markets — and in other markets not at all — the league continues to miss out on the gameday revenues that are the backbone of its business.
The source added that the league was able to claw back some revenues on the broadcast rights side, but that the league incurred additional expenses due to teams using charter flights to travel to away games, COVID-19 testing, and the MLS is Back tournament that was held in a bubble in Orlando, Florida, last July.