MLS delays season opener until April 17

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber speaks during the leagues 25th Season kickoff event in New York. Major League Soccer has extended its deadline for negotiating adjustments to the existing collective bargaining agreement until Feb. 4 and warned it is prepared to lock out players if a deal isn’t reached by then.

Commissioner Don Garber said the Major League Soccer season will begin April 17, two weeks later than originally announced because of extended labor negotiations.

Garber held a wide-ranging news conference Wednesday after the league and its players agreed over the weekend to an amended collective bargaining agreement meant to help offset losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Now that the CBA has been ratified, the league will set a new date for teams to open preseason training camps in the near future. The season schedule will also be announced soon, Garber said.

It’s still unclear whether spectators will be allowed in the league’s stadiums because of different local restrictions.

“I don’t have any sense that fans are going to be in our stadiums in large numbers for most if not all of our season,” he said.

Garber estimated the losses to the league last season were $1 billion, partly because of the drop in ticket revenue as teams played in empty stadiums and because of added expenses like charter flights for teams. He expects this season’s losses to be in the same range.

“I think the good news here is that we have worked on a new long-term agreement that allows us to recoup some of the losses over time, from the losses that we’re going to incur this year. And we are forecasted to lose pretty close to that $1 billion, if not a $1 billion, that we had been talking about,” Garber said. “When you don’t have fans for the majority of your season, it’s just pure math.”

The amended CBA ratified this week gives players their full salaries for this season and extends the deal for two more years until the 2027 season.

The Major League Soccer Players Association and the league had already had two difficult negotiations last year — one in February before the start of the season and a second in June when players took a pay cut in order to resume the 2020 season.

Then in late December, the league invoked a force majeure clause, citing ongoing uncertainty because of the COVID-19 crisis. MLS had warned its teams to prepare for a lockout if another deal wasn’t struck. The league has not had a work stoppage since it started in 1996.

“That’s a credit to the respect that we have for our union. I think it’s a real credit to the professionalism and the expertise of the union and its negotiating committee. ... I think there’s a give and take that allows us to be able to work together to try to build this league,” Garber said.

Normally the season starts in late February and early March. Because of the delay, the league faces a congested competition calendar. The league’s 27 teams, with expansion Austin joining this season, will play a 34-game regular season.

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