The MLS has become the second American sports league to approve a return-to-play format, as the Players Association voted on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning to approve the plan.
Along with the vote being passed, the new collective bargaining agreement has been agreed to as well, eliminating the possibility of a lockout, which the league threatened earlier this week. It’s set to expire in 2025.
The resumption of the league will take place in a “bubble” setting in Orlando, FL at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. Teams will be able to fly into Florida around June 24 and train for two weeks before competition begins.
Teams are able to stay in their own cities to train before the tournament. Other teams that are in high-risk areas and don’t have that luxury will need to fly into Orlando earlier to train.
The tournament includes three group-stage games and a knockout round afterward. All group-stage matches will count towards the regular-season standings. The knockout round format has not been released as of yet.
Per The Athletic’s report, the MLS will “create a $1 million prize pool and will help fund philanthropic efforts in teams’ home markets.”
The teams would remain in Orlando for around six weeks. The league is hoping that they can resume the regular season in home markets after the Orlando tournament, although they will wait to see what happens with the COVID-19 pandemic before making any official calls.
If granted an exemption due to certain medical and/or family conditions, players would be allowed to opt-out of the tournament. Players who are not granted an exemption and don’t participate in the tournament will be given “strict” penalties.
Some of the league’s stars, like Carlos Vela, have said they might not participate. Vela’s wife, Saioa Caniabano, announced on April 14 that she was 15 weeks pregnant with the couple’s second child.
Regarding the new CBA, players will take a five-percent pay cut for the 2020 season, as well as team and individual bonuses being reduced to a $5 million pool, and $1 million of that will go to the Orlando tournament.
All salary increases agreed to in the last CBA have been pushed back one year, so increases in 2021 have been pushed back to the 2022 season. A reduction in TV revenue has been agreed to by the players as well, which was originally slated for 2023. Players were originally supposed to receive 25% of the money generated in new broadcast deals, but that will be dropped to 12.5% in 2023. It will return to 25% in 2024-25.
The league and players also agreed to a force majeure clause, which protects the league in case of any more extraordinary events occurring that would shut down sports indefinitely.
Commissioner Don Garber said that the league is taking a $1 billion revenue hit due to COVID-19, which made CBA discussions even more difficult than usual. The league is also losing money from TV contracts with ESPN, Fox, and Univision which are worth around $90 million annually.
For individual training and the social distancing measures being taken, COVID-19 testing isn’t required, but full-group training will require testing.
Each club would be allowed to bring 45 to 47 club delegates to Orlando, which counts players and staff. The league also needs to send their own staff, along with media members and Disney/ESPN staff being present as well.
The league has been shut down since March 12.