The coronavirus pandemic has put sports on hold throughout the world. Every major sports league is actively trying to develop a plan to get their teams back on the field. Fans may not be permitted to attend the games, but it will boost the world’s morale to see their favorite sports and athletes on television or streaming again. The one major sport that has returned already is soccer. It seems much more feasible for soccer to reopen in Europe than the United States,
Soccer is already gradually reopening in Europe. The German Bundesliga was one of the first major sports leagues to return to action. They have been back in action for several weeks with absolutely no incidents. The top soccer leagues in England, Italy, and Spain are following a similar path. (The outlier is France which surprised the French and the soccer world in their decision to cancel its league season and tournament play.)
By the end of June, England, Italy, and Spain will join Germany in moving the game forward through the COVID 19 period. These leagues will lose significant revenue from the lack of fans in attendance. The leagues will withstand this financial hardship because of lucrative sponsorship contracts and profitable television revenue. But the towns and cities that host the games will pay a higher price as a concession, merchandise, and parking revenue evaporate in response to the virus. The best news is the shared interest of owners and players to give the fans an end to the season and the world something to celebrate.
Major League Soccer
There are several reasons why it will likely take a little longer for soccer to return to the United States. The MLS lacks the sponsorship and television money of the European leagues. The owners will have a much harder time paying the players without revenue from ticket sales.
There is also less urgency to reopen because the MLS season has not started yet. The league and players may decide to wait as there is no pressure from fans to finish an uncompleted season. Nevertheless, as in Europe, the economic impact on U.S. cities and towns that host the MLS teams to get the season started as soon as possible.
Once soccer does return, there will be several changes made to the game. The lack of fans has created an exciting environment in Germany. The home-field advantage is virtually non-existent, which significantly benefits the teams with more talent. Testing is required for all players before every game, and they must refrain from celebrating goals in large groups. The ball will be exchanged and cleaned throughout the game. Each side will get additional substitutions every game due to the lack of training time for the players.
As with all major sports, the risk versus reward calculation of reopening has many variables. Ultimately, the game of soccer will need to adapt to the new health protocols and address any COVID19 outbreaks with discipline guided by the new league rules of the virus impacted season ahead.