Shortly after today’s Lion Links column (and most of The Mane Land staff) had been put to bed last night, Steven Goff of The Washington Post dropped a major story that indicates the entirety of Major League Soccer could soon be on its way to Orlando to resume the 2020 season. Goff, a well connected soccer writer, indicated that multiple sources have revealed that a potential plan exists that would send all 26 MLS teams to Orlando to quarantine together at a large resort near Disney World and play league matches at the Disney sports complex — primarily at ESPN Wide World of Sports.
The last time MLS came to Disney, it worked out well for Orlando City, which won the 2019 MLS All-Star Skills Challenge.
This proposed plan, if implemented, would bring more than 1,000 players, coaches, and support staff to Central Florida to resume a 2020 MLS season that lasted only two weekends before the coronavirus pandemic lockdown shut everything down. A plan of this sort could be necessary due to the disparity of how states are reopening across the country. While some teams have already returned to voluntary individual on-site workouts, there are still some MLS clubs that can’t due to local restrictions and there is no certainty when some of those restrictions could be lifted. Because Florida is among those states that has started lifting restrictions, it would provide an even playing field for all teams if this model is ultimately chosen for the resumption of the season.
Under its Orlando plan, MLS would welcome teams for workouts and multiple matches per day, which ESPN platforms would carry. It’s unclear whether the league’s other TV partners, Fox Sports and Univision, would show games.
Without spectators in the stadium, MLS is eyeing opportunities to bond with fans through behind-the-scenes packages and interactive engagement on ESPN and the league’s digital platform.
It is hard to imagine this scenario going over well with FOX and Univision if only ESPN is permitted to televise live matches unless some other agreements are reached. Another potential problem with the plan is, as Goff reported, that players would not be able to bring wives and families with them, and that extended isolation could create a variety of issues and stresses. COVID-19 tests would need to become available to be regularly administered not only to players, coaches, referees, and club staff, but also to the necessary service employees, such as hotel staff, bus drivers, broadcast crews, media, food service staff, and more.
Ultimately, MLS would send teams back home when that possibility exists, to resume the season in empty home stadiums across the country.
The Orlando plan is not the only one under consideration. There have been previous reports that the league could resume in a few different locations and that a tournament format could be utilized if and when the season continues, although it is unclear if those would replace regular-season matches or be counted among them.
Should the entire MLS come to Orlando and play at Disney with no fans, the matches would no doubt be a bit more sterile, as supporters and unique stadium atmospheres are part of the overall MLS experience, but this might be the only way forward with soccer in 2020.