USL VP Ryan Madden ‘confident’ play will resume in 2020
May 18, 2020, 6:36 AM | Updated: 7:35 am
(Photo courtesy of Ashley Orellana)
Some USL Championship clubs, including Phoenix Rising, returned to modified training on May 11.
Currently, the league is only allowing a maximum of four players participating in the same training exercise. The four have to be a minimum of six feet away from other small groups due to the novel coronavirus.
And with each club having to abide by its state laws, when will the 2020 USL season resume, if at all?
“I’m confident as things stand today that we’ll play in 2020, but it changes with every passing day,” USL VP of communications Ryan Madden said on the UpRising Podcast.
“The reality is that as things sit today, we can reschedule all affected matches in theory, but that is starting to become a harder and harder proposition.”
Madden added that the league is modeling out numerous return-to-play scenarios with varying start dates between now and late summer.
“Ultimately, the next decision that we face collectively as a league, is we’re getting closer to that threshold where a traditional competitive format might no longer feasible,” Madden said.
“We’ll have to have, or explore at least, some form of an altered competition, whether that takes the shape of a tournament or regionalized play or potentially some other creative solutions.”
However, Madden says that as time continues to pass, the aforementioned scenarios become more and more likely. But the league isn’t there just yet. He also said that nothing has been ruled out time-wise when asked if the league could possibly be playing after November, which is when the USL Championship Final is usually held.
Another uncertainty should the regular season resume is the possibility of playing behind closed doors (without fans) due to the coronavirus.
“It’s a no-brainer for us that we want to compete in front of all our supporters. I think about a community like Phoenix,” Madden said. “Phoenix is a ferocious atmosphere. It’s tribal. The place is absolutely buzzing.
“In a lot of ways, our league is synonymous with our supporters and the fan experience. There may be some middle ground, whether it’s limited capacity venues, opening it up — maybe not to full capacity — still allowing people in, but restricting capacity to an extent that maybe you can maintain some form of social distancing.”
But no matter what the league ultimately decides to do from a competition standpoint, that decision will be made autonomously and voted on collectively by all 35 Championship sides and 12 League One teams.
“A silver lining in all of this is that sense of collective, having to come together and make these decisions and think about things in not just a club-by-club or community-by-community basis, but have to come together and have to as an ecosystem make decisions that are in our collective best interest,” Madden said.
He explained that a majority of clubs’ revenue comes from matchday, including parking, concessions and the in-stadium experience, especially due to the fact that USL doesn’t have a media rights deal anywhere near the likes of the NFL and NBA, which can help aid a league financially during the hiatus.
So what does that mean for the future of both USL Championship and League One? Will the expansion be halted for the time being? Will clubs be forced to fold or merge in order to survive financially?
“I don’t have any reason to believe that’s the case today,” Madden said.
“The reality is that our teams are largely matchday-dependent in terms of a revenue standpoint. We have owners who aren’t just in it for the economics. We have owners that are trying to build a community-based clubs.”
Madden pointed to Gary Green of League One side Union Omaha, who donated the club’s kit sponsor to two hospitals instead of selling the rights to the front of the shirt.
He also added that League One would be expanding from 12 to 17 teams by the end of the year, and that even could surpass 20 by 2026.
“Who knows where it ends up by the time the 2026 World Cup rolls around?” Madden said. “The future of League One is the largest growth sector of the broader USL system. I’m very confident in where things stand today and where they’re heading.”
Recently, it was announced that USL Championship is interested in a CONCACAF Champions League slot, something that is currently only reserved for first division sides.
“It’s an ambition of ours,” Madden said. “We’re not a traditional second division. We have 47 professional communities around the country. Our footprint is huge.
“We have a billion dollars already invested or proposed for stadium investments across the country. Nobody is building more soccer-specific stadium than USL is.”
And because the winner of each continent’s respective Champions League goes to the FIFA Club World Cup, theoretically, a USL side could compete with the likes of European giants for a shot to call themselves the champions of the world.
But while the likes of PRFC winning the Champions League in the near future remains nearly impossible, Madden says there’s a realistic possibility that a USL Championship team could eventually find itself competing among CONCACAF’s best.
“The headline is a bit sensational maybe, but if you really look at it and do the calculus, I don’t think it’s outside the realm of reason,” Madden explained.
“We’ve had conversations with CONCACAF and as things stand today, only top divisions are eligible to play. But they’ve shown a willingness to at least continue those conversations.”