MLS lays off 20% of its staff as the financial impact of COVID-19 on sports continues

FRISCO, TX - AUGUST 16: An official MLS soccer ball waits on a stand during the game between the FC Dallas and the Nashville SC on August 16, 2020 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
An official MLS ball sits on a stand during a game between the FC Dallas and the Nashville SC in August. (Matthew Pearce/Getty Images)

Major League Soccer on Thursday laid off 20 percent of full-time employees at its New York City headquarters as the financial impact of the global coronavirus pandemic on sports continues, multiple sources told Yahoo Sports.

Jonathan Tannenwald of the Philadelphia Inquirer first reported the layoffs on Twitter. One source with knowledge of the details told Yahoo that “nearly 70 positions” had been eliminated in all, including vacancies. That source didn’t say exactly how many people were let go, but MLS listed just five open jobs on its website as of Thursday afternoon. About 300 people were employed at the league office before the cuts were made.

MLS froze hiring in April, a few weeks after it suspended its 25th anniversary season because of the health crisis, and most of its workforce agreed to a pay reduction. MLS commissioner Don Garber and deputies Mark Abbott and Gary Stevenson took a 25 percent cut, while managers and most of the league’s other staff saw decreases between 10 and 20 percent. Those reductions will continue, the same source said.

The league resumed play in July and concluded its regular season earlier this month, mostly without fans in attendance. The 2020 MLS Cup playoffs begin on Friday.

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc across the live sports and entertainment industri, with large gatherings prohibited in most jurisdictions in the United States, Canada and around the world. It has hit MLS particularly hard in the pocketbook — more than it has older and more established North American sports leagues such as the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball, which generate the bulk of their revenue through multibillion dollar media rights deals.

MLS, on the other hand, makes most of its money from game-day revenue — a stream that has all but dried up without droves of paying customers allowed into stadiums. In 2019, MLS’s average attendance was over 21,000 fans per game. Garber said in June that the league expected to lose $1 billion dollars in revenue this year.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - AUGUST 11: Don Garber, the Commissioner of Major League Soccer before a game between Orlando City SC and Portland Timbers at ESPN Wide World of Sports on August 11, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Jeremy Reper/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
MLS commissioner Don Garber. (Jeremy Reper/Getty Images)

The NBA laid off around 100 employees later that month, after the NFL had furloughed some of its staff. Individual teams across professional sports have also let people go; MLS’s news comes just days after the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers and Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning announced their own round of layoffs.

Many college athletic departments have also let employees go in recent months, as have clubs in some of Europe’s top soccer circuits, as a result of the pandemic’s devastating economic impact.