MLS: Can expansion teams benefit from COVID-19 pandemic?

The global transfer market will change immeasurably due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But could it be to the benefit of expansion teams in MLS?

The COVID-19 global pandemic will change football in huge ways, many of which are not even known yet. But one of the most obvious consequences of the coronavirus and the subsequent extended postponement of games is the lack of revenue.

Teams rely on matchday income. And not just due to the ticket sales for home matches. Games help create commercial growth, bring new fans into the club, and, most crucially, provide revenue from television and streaming companies. This is vital in modern football.

The financial impact will be felt throughout the footballing world. Some clubs will not come out of the other side, especially those lower down the pyramid in other countries. And for those that do survive, the transfer window will look very different indeed, as Toronto FC General Manager Ali Curtis explained to mlssoccer.com:

“I do think the transfer market will exist, but there’ll be a lot less player movement than there’s ever been. The finances of player movement will be significantly impacted.”

For those that have money, the transfer market will be a buyer’s market. Prices will plummet, plenty of players will be released and become available on free transfers, while those looking to fill out their squads will have the opportunity to do so on the cheap.

The teams this benefits most directly are MLS expansion teams, like Austin FC. “If you’re Austin coming into the league, now is a great time to be looking at player acquisition,” Portland Timbers General Manager Gavin Wilkinson said. “Having the same resources as expansion teams over the last few years, when the market was drastically inflated, now you’re coming into a situation where players are 25 or 30 per cent of the value they previously were.”

Austin FC will not be as impacted by the suspension of matches. The growth of the sport more generally, and MLS in particular, will have some effect, of course, but their entire financial model was predicated on not generating massive revenue in 2020. They will enter MLS in 2021 and not start to earn serious revenue until then.

In theory, then, the money they have raised will go further. Austin will be keen to build the foundations of their squad over the course of the next year. The money with which they will make those investments will be there, coronavirus or not. Financially, very little changes. As such, they will be able to take huge advantage of other teams desperately looking to offload players to balance the books or clubs forced to release players that they can no longer afford to pay or offer a new contract to.

This is also applicable for the team in Charlotte. They will are on course to conduct the same recruiting process as Austin FC, backed by Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper. Money should not be an issue, and the money they do have to spend will go substantially further.

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COVID-19, then, will change football immeasurably. And no aspect of the sport will be more impacted than the transfer market. That, though, might just be a benefit to those that can exploit it.

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