by Beth Keating
June 11, 2020
One of the things that has been missing from our household in the past few months has been major league sports. It took me awhile to realize that the quietness in the house was due to the lack of background crowd noise from the consistency of professional sports on the TV. With the dearth of new games, one son has even taken to watching decades old Yankees games to fill the void. As states begin to reopen, and sports trickles back into the American landscape, Disney has stepped in to play a major – no pun intended – role in making it happen.
Courtesy of Disney Parks Blog
Last week, the NBA announced it would resume its abbreviated season at Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. (See DisneyBizJournal’s report.) While the basketball deal had been rumored for weeks, it really didn’t come as a surprise to most people when the deal was finally inked. Disney has a prior relationship with the NBA (if in doubt, check out the NBA Experience at Disney Springs https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/entertainment/disney-springs/nba-experience/), and the ideally suited ESPN complex, already preset for media needs and multiple games, was uniquely suited to hosting, housing and training the professional players and staffs.
Now, Disney and MLS have announced that professional soccer is coming to the Disney complex as well. The “MLS is Back Tournament” will begin on July 8th, relaunching Major League Soccer’s 2020 season, which also happens to be its 25thseason.
All of MLS’s 26 teams will compete in a continuous schedule of 54 total matches, with three matches each day at 9 am, 8 pm, and 10:30 pm. According to the Disney Parks Blog, the tournament winner will also earn a spot in the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League.
The tournament’s opening game will feature Orlando City SC vs. Inter Miami CF as they face off for the first time. The rest of the tournament continues on July 8th when group stage begins, followed by a round of 16 from July 25th-28th. Quarterfinals are set to begin July 30th-August 1st, with semi-finals on August 5th-6th. The final game will take place August 11th.
Broadcasts of the games will take place on MLS partner networks, and will feature interactive fan elements. Soccer enthusiasts can also sign up for daily updates from the tournament at https://www.mlssoccer.com/mls-is-back-tournament. Specific details on competition format and draws to determine the group placings for the tournament are also available there.
Interestingly, this is not the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex’s first run at professional soccer. The facility also hosted the 1998 MLS preseason, as well as events for the 1998 and 2019 MLS All-Star Games.
During the tournament, players will be subject to daily testing for COVID-19, and specific medical protocols and a comprehensive testing plan developed by infectious disease experts will be in effect. As is the case with the NBA games, the tournament will take place without fans present.
Beth Keating is a regular contributor to DisneyBizJournal.