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Time to make plans to play in front of empty stadiums

The science looks a bit grim to return to the stadiums any time soon...or even this year.

MLS: Montreal Impact at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

In this strange time in which we live, a lot of possibilities are swirling around the internet based on what might happen if COVID-19 remains a threat going into June and July. At this point, it’s already significantly impacted Major League Soccer and other leagues, but we may not have even imagined the full impact as the dominos continue to fall. For example, there can be a strong case made that if/when MLS gets back in play, it will be in quiet, sterile stadiums.

Now, you could make a joke that a lot of MLS teams will hardly notice the difference, including Houston and (self-own) FC Dallas. Other teams, however, will be devastated.

Teams I imagine will be creative with a situation like this. Viewership and ad revenue will increase as fans watch from home, maybe offsetting some of the drop in income. Some stadiums will surely find a way to exempt small box seat situations with a few rich fans getting in. Ultimately, local businesses who depend on booking fans to stay in area hotels or dine and shop around the stadium will be hit hard. The games will feel different too. Will it be the same intensity? Will it feel more like a scrimmage to some players? Will certain players who struggle under the intensity of a Saturday or Sunday game under the lights find space to flourish?

Certainly, European fans have already experienced quiet games with teams being punished because of racist incidents or cheating scandals. True, it’s weird to watch those games. But it is soccer. And I’d rather watch soccer in an empty stadium that no soccer at all.

Teams that thrive in the weeks and months to come will be the ones that are not afraid of thinking outside of the box. What if season ticket holders could get their pictures in team colors taped to their vacant seats? What if other fans could pay a small fee to support their club and do the same? Priests and pastors are doing it - why not soccer clubs?

In a technologically rich scenario, imagine weather resistant tablets built into to every ticketed seat, allowing a fan to see the game from their assigned spot and broadcast their face, excitement, and noise out to the field. Would it feel a little better for a player to score a goal and run to a bank of iPads revealing fans celebrating from the comfort of their homes? Or will it remain just so darn weird?

Social media connections and skill may become an even greater investment area for teams in the days to come. Imagine teams going out of their way to take questions and comments from fans who are stuck at home, opening up pregame and postgame to fans or a select group. Could an inventive team post fan tweets live on the stadium jumbotron? Or could a dedicated fan who donated a certain amount of money to a local non-profit get their name or twitter handle on a particular player’s jersey for one match? How can soccer teams like FC Dallas keep their fanbase engaged and excited before, during, and after a match? And how can they utilize these avenues to increase revenue to stay afloat and thrive?

Faith communities, non-profits, and businesses of all sizes are rewriting rules on how to stay engaged, hopeful, and energized in this time. Why not soccer clubs?

What do you think? Will FC Dallas have to play in front of an empty stadium? What kind of things would you like the team to do to keep you engaged?