MLS Fight Island
Yesterday MLS sent out a press release saying their original mid-May date for resuming play was not going to happen. It was a statement everyone expected but nobody wanted to read. To make things worse, though much more depressing and accurate, MLS offered up no new target date for getting the season back up and running. With no potential start date for resuming a normal season, people are going to start to get creative.
With what is in all likelihood the greatest sports quote of 2020, UFC President Dana White told ESPN: "Fight Island is real"; a reference to White's plan of hosting fighters on a Caribbean island that would all fight in pay per view fights while on said island. The whole plan sounds more like the plot of a Jean-Claude Van Damme film you might stumble upon while scrolling through Netflix. But White isn't alone. MLB is considering a similar plan, with putting all of the baseball teams in either one or two locations and building a baseball resort that will host a full season. Desperate times calling for desperate measures.
And what's this? MLS themselves are kicking around the idea of an irregular tournament that would run in place of a full season? MLS fight island confirmed!
So, what would this even look like? How do you host a partial season like this? Here is what MLS fight Island could look like. Over the next few days we will take a look at a few different tournament/season alternative options.
Labor Day Conference Hell In the Cell
This one is the simplest to pull off and this tournament is the most likely to happen of the options out there.
The set-up is very simple: MLS has all of the teams, along with their technical staff, sequestered to one city. Matches would of course be played with no fans in attendance. All of the Eastern Conference teams would use LAFC's facilities and all of the Western Conference would use LA Galaxy's facilities. There would be some renting of high school and college fields as well to accomidate everyone.
The season kicks off on Labor Day Weekend. Teams would then play one match against every conference foe. There's no need for a home-and-away setup here since everyone except LA Galaxy are playing "away". This is good for 12 matches per team, happening once a week. These matches could be spaced out throughout the week to maximize TV broadcast times, or it could be all done on Saturday and Sunday with a big weekend blow-out of matches.
There are 17 weekends from Labor Day weekend to Christmas weekend. The top eight teams in each conference would then compete in a single elimination knockout tournament. Once the conference tournaments are over, the two finalists one final championship match. The final is hosted at the "home" stadium in LA of the team with the most points.
But here's the catch: The goal difference and points from those first few games of the 2020 season? They carry over to this tournament. This ensures all official matches played by an MLS team still counts for something.
So, there is one major pitfall to this entire concept of a fan-less tournament: match day revenue. MLS really, really, REALLY, needs their match day revenue to stay profitable. According to a Reddit post (that failed to cite a single credible source but backs up my argument), 50% of MLS teams' revenue comes from match day sources vs just 18% for most large European teams. This means just leaning on their broadcast rights as they existjust won't cut it for MLS like it would for the EPL or even MLB.
In order to pull this off, it would be necessary for MLS to try and renegotiate a deal with ESPN, Fox, or some other broadcaster who is desperate for content. Maybe matches end up on Quibi.
But if there is one thing about this set up that could be fun, it would be giving broadcasters the ability to have a little fun with their presentation. And by that I mean VR. Imagine setting up VR cameras around these stadiums and letting fans "sit in the stands" virtually to watch their team! Or give me a ref cam that I can flip over to. Put a mic on the referee so we can hear what they say to players over the course of a match. Mic the coaches. There are any number of odd-ball ideas that could be thrown around for the presentation of a fan-less match.
If the season can't go forward as planned, the league is going to have to get creative. And conference round-robins held in isolation might be the closest thing we get to an MLS season this year.