Potential MLS Responses to Covid-19
As teams around the MLS adapt to declarations by federal, state, and local officials in regards to Covid-19, there are three inevitable courses of action to be taken by teams, and the league, while the list of unaffected states continues to shrink.
The potential for schedules to continue as planned has already been extinguished as (at the time of writing) the San Jose/Philadelphia and Seattle/Houston games have already been postponed and government officials continue to urge more strongly that organizations consider canceling or postponing events to slow the spread of the virus; although those urges are not mandates, that is likely to change in the comings days and weeks. With the NBA, La Liga, UEFA Champions League, and others suspending their seasons, it's very likely MLS is impacted sooner rather than later.
This is the least likely (and almost impossible) option for an obvious reason: money. With supply chains, tourism and travel companies being impacted so heavily right now, it would make sense to try to hold off on having to refund sales and/or risking season ticket renewals due to frustration. Reports suggest that layoffs due to virus-related budget concerns are already beginning to happen and that is not a hit that MLS wants to take as soccer continues to grow in popularity here in the United States.
For the same reasons as canceling, this is also unlikely. Soccer teams in Europe and other sports teams in the United States have done this or committed to doing so but the financial losses would provide a significant obstacle in addition to the frustrations fans already have with streaming providers, like Flo. A deal would also be needed between teams and streaming services to make up for the forced streaming and discouraged viewing parties which would continue to build on the other losses. In Europe, this option has failed to prevent supporters from congregating outside of the stadium while the game commences inside which largely defeats the purpose of playing to an empty stadium.
Rescheduling Games to Midweek
Temporarily delaying the season would be a tall order, with travel accommodations already in place for many traveling supporters, and extending the season longer would put even more stress on a transfer window. Playoffs extending weeks later than originally anticipated would require teams to adjust to a window that is no longer in the middle of the season. The probable situation, at this time, would be postponing games for the next couple of weeks while the threat is monitored and rescheduling those games for the middle of the week throughout the season. This is still not an ideal response as it will be very taxing on the players and a logistical nightmare for scheduling but it would provide the least disruption to the league, as a business. There are still midweek vacancies on some Wednesdays and Thursdays and, if they want to limit how many games are played per night to maximize viewership, they could move games to some Tuesday evenings as there is currently no MLS programming for those days.
FC Cincinnati has indicated that they have planned measures to fight the spread of the virus at home games, should they proceed as scheduled, but have not ruled out postponing the game as they await further direction from medical experts and government officials. If nothing changes, FC Cincinnati’s home opener is scheduled for March 14th at 7:00 p.m. EST at Nippert Stadium.