President Donald Trump is a pro football guy.
His only foray into professional sports was as the owner of the New Jersey Generals of the short-lived USFL in the 1980s.
His friendship with NFL owners like New England Patriots (and New England Revolution) owner Robert Kraft is well known. When U.S. Soccer started putting together its World Cup 2026 bid effort -- later expanded to include Canada and Mexico -- it needed to find an in with Trump, and Kraft was its man, named honorary chairman of the bid committee in July 2017.
When Trump was elected in 2017, seven NFL owners or entities they control gave $1 million or more to the Trump inaugural committee, Trump Victory and Trump campaign, including three with soccer ties: Fulham owner Shahid Khan, Arsenal and Colorado Rapids owner Stan Kroenke and Kraft.
The NFL was very much on Trump's mind when he held a conference call with the heads of various U.S. pro leagues and organizations on Saturday. (Of the four U.S. pro soccer leagues, MLS, the NWSL, USL and NISA, only MLS was represented, with Commissioner Don Garber on the call.)
ESPN reported that Trump said on the call he believes the NFL season should start on time in September and later added that he hopes fans can return to stadiums by August and September.
"I want fans back in the arenas," Trump said later in a briefing at the White House. "I think it's ... whenever we're ready. As soon as we can, obviously. And the fans want to be back, too. They want to see basketball and baseball and football and hockey. They want to see their sports. They want to go out onto the golf courses and breathe nice, clean, beautiful fresh air."
Asked for an exact date when he anticipates fans returning to stadiums, parks and arenas around the country, Trump responded, "No, I can't tell you a date, but I think it's going to be sooner rather than later."
Trump's remarks were immediately dismissed by a response from California governor Gavin Newsom, whose state currently features five MLB teams, four NBA teams three NFL teams, three NHL teams and three MLS teams.
"I'm not anticipating that happening in this state." said of a late summer return of packed stadiums. "“We’ve all seen the headlines in the last couple days in Asia where they were opening up certain businesses and now they’re starting to roll back those openings because they’re starting to see some spread and there’s a boomerang. One has to be very cautious here, one has to be careful not to over-promise.”
Newsom said he is often asked by friends he has in sports when he expects they will come back.
"I said, 'I would move very cautiously in that expectation," Newsom added. "So look, I'm not here to second-guess anybody, but I am here to say this, our decision on that basis, at least here in the state of California, will be determined by the facts, will be determined by the health experts, will be determined by our capacity to meet this moment, bend the curve and have the appropriate community surveillance and testing to confidently determine whether that's appropriate. And right now I'm just focused on the immediate, but that's not something I anticipate happening in the next few months."
Before it is safe for fans to return to the stadiums, it must be safe for players to play and before that safe for them to practice. Adding anywhere from 4-6 weeks before a league can start, in the case of the NFL, or resume, in the case of MLS.
But when that can happen might be a long way off, whether it's an NFL team with a 90-player preseason roster or MLS team with 30-player active roster.
Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said widespread testing would have to be available before camps could even open.
“As long as we’re still in a place where when a single individual tests positive for the virus that you have to quarantine every single person who was in contact with them in any shape, form or fashion, then I don’t think you can begin to think about reopening a team sport,” Sills said in an interview with NFL.com. “Because we’re going to have positive cases for a very long time.”
Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire