Soccer-MLS concerned after COVID-19 takes bite out of 2020 revenue

Dec 8 (Reuters) - Major League Soccer suffered a nearly $1 billion revenue hit compared to last year due to COVID-19 but is hopeful 2021 will bring a reprieve as it plans to launch its new season on schedule next March, Commissioner Don Garber said on Tuesday.

Garber, speaking during a virtual media briefing, said the league not only lost a “significant amount” of revenue but also incurred unexpected expenses like chartering players to every game and managing the MLS is Back Tournament.

“We are concerned about what this will look like leading into 2021 and are working at figuring out how we can manage through that,” Garber said during his annual State of the League Address ahead of Saturday’s MLS Cup final between Columbus and Seattle Sounders.

“I am very, very hopeful that 2021 will be a way better year than ‘20 because I don’t think any business can sustain the kind of impact that we sustained in 2020 for two years in a row.”

Garber said MLS hopes to kick off its 2021 season by early to mid-March but is exploring different models and timeframes given the uncertainty with the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is no desire, Garber said, to hold off launching a new campaign until fans are allowed back into stadiums given a lot of that hinges on a successful roll-out of a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States and Canada.

“The challenge is nobody has that magic date. It will vary state by state and province by province,” said Garber, adding that it is not only about the fans but MLS’s desire to obtain as much sponsor and media revenue as possible.

“We can’t wait for an understanding of the impact of the vaccine ... we are not going to know that (in time) and have to set a schedule prior to that.”

Garber also said he was concerned about where MLS’s three Canadian teams will play in 2021 given the current travel restrictions in place stemming from the pandemic.

“It’s too early to make a guess on that,” Garber said when asked where Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver would play.

“I’m impressed how the Canadian government has managed the pandemic ... let’s hope that they are able to get through this quickly and we can play our games in our home markets and teams can travel back and forth.” (Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto Editing by Toby Davis)