Explore sports news

12 min read

Zuhosky’s Take #17: Time for MLS to Revisit Lightning Rules

We’re a couple of weeks into spring now, and with spring comes warmer weather (though, as anybody living in Ohio, such as myself, will be able to tell you with conviction and certainty, it can still snow in spring’s earlier weeks. Along with the warmer weather, you’ve got an annoyance that comes with it: Thunderstorms.

Thunder and lightning make for a dangerous combination, especially in cases of a sporting event at an open-air stadium. It goes without saying that anybody who attends a sporting event in the spring and/or summer is taking a risk. Any one of those events, such as an MLS match, could very well be delayed, suspended, or outright postponed by lightning in the area.

MLS" Weather Rules Mostly Fine

In the first weekend of the season, two matches were postponed due to a rare winter storm on the West Coast, including a marquee contest on the opening Saturday. On Feb. 24, under 36 hours prior to the scheduled kickoff time at the famed Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, CA, MLS elected to postpone an anticipated renewal of the El Trafico rivalry because of the LA area"s first instance of a blizzard warning since 1989 and public safety concerns.

This match was rebooked for the evening of July 4 hours after the postponement became official. When a forecast is calling for unfavorable weather conditions and it"s known far enough in advance, it"s always in the best interest for everyone involved to call a game off as early as possible.

This is why you see games getting announced as rained or snowed out in the early part of Major League Baseball"s season by noon local time in cases of a night game. Nobody wants to pay for a parking spot and get inside the venue only to find out that there"s no game.

Weather Policy Explained

MLS rules dictate that all on-field activity will cease in the event of lightning within eight miles of the match grounds. Such a delay remains in effect until 30 minutes pass without a bolt of lightning in said radius. Any new lightning strikes will reset the clock.

This eight-mile radius for MLS in terms of lightning delays is in line with other such policies for outdoor sports. Giving that kind of wiggle room allows spectators enough time to run for cover when storms approach. As the old rhyme goes, “When thunder roars, go indoors."

My family has gone to sporting events where lightning delays have been in effect. We run for cover before the official announcement is made every time, all the time.

Usually, these weather delays don"t last much longer than 45 minutes to one hour, but sometimes they can go long. There were two instances last year in Major League Soccer with marathon stoppages and in one case, an outright postponement.

Overtime Heroics Flashback: May 21, 2022:

Less than a full calendar year ago, MLS had four matches scheduled on the afternoon and evening of May 21. It was a rare weekend where most of the action that matchday was scheduled for Sunday. Three of the four matches that Saturday were held up by lightning, including a lengthy delay at Lower.com Field.

During a nationally-televised contest between Columbus Crew SC and LAFC on MLS" former linear television partner Univision, the opening kickoff was held up for close to three hours by heavy weather in the Columbus area.

At 6:39 pm Eastern Time that evening, two hours and 49 minutes after the game was supposed to have begun, kickoff finally happened. They were by no means done with the foul weather, since just four minutes later, lightning was again detected in the prescribed radius.

Thankfully, the weather delay didn"t last as long the second time around, with the match playing out to completion and LAFC, the eventual MLS Cup champions, taking the three points that evening by a final score of 2-0. Let"s fast-forward in time by two months.

Another Marathon Delay in Charlotte

On July 30, the Crew found themselves in familiar territory when they traveled to North Carolina to take on Charlotte FC. Kickoff time was scheduled for just past 7 pm Eastern Time at Bank of America Stadium in the Queen City.

However, as fans who tuned into Charlotte"s local pregame coverage anchored by Katie Witham would soon learn that evening, a forecast of stormy weather would force the kickoff to get pushed back. The weather delay on this night lasted over three hours before kickoff time was finally rescheduled for 10:18 pm local time.

The teams only managed to play 15 minutes of scoreless football before being asked to head back to the locker rooms for the second weather delay of the night.

Clock Strikes Midnight… Almost Literally… For Charlotte and Columbus

Given the persistent inclement weather that evening and the lateness of the hour, the decision was made to suspend play for the evening after 11:30 pm local. The forecast was calling for continued rain through 3 am on July 31.

This game was resumed and completed on the night of Oct. 5. Crew SC and Charlotte FC played to a 2-2 draw after the restart. Much like the decisions to suspend play in Columbus two months earlier, the move to halt the game for the evening from came down from MLS" offices in New York City.

In the case of the Charlotte suspension, fans were upset and had a reason to be, leading to the organization"s revision of the inclement weather rules in the days afterward. With warmer weather and lightning delays looming once again as we head deeper into the spring, it"s time for MLS to make an alteration in the weather policy.

MLS Should Give Power of Postponement in Case of Weather Back to Teams Themselves

Major League Soccer should borrow from the baseball postponement rules if a match has to be called off by inclement weather on gameday ahead of the opening kickoff. In baseball, the decision to postpone a regular season game ahead of the scheduled first pitch time rests with the homestanding ballclub.

After the lineups are officially exchanged, the umpiring crew holds the power and can decide to postpone the game if unsafe weather threatens play. MLS shouldn"t need to rely on its own offices in New York City in case of a matchday postponement by intense weather.

Local Weather Services Know the Areas Better than a League Office

The reason for this alteration is simple: Meteorologists and forecasters working in MLS cities also live in the area and will be on-call 24 hours a day if the weather is severe in any event, not just a delay to a game. Thus, these people are well-versed in their knowledge of their area"s weather conditions. They know the area like the back of their hands.

If the Columbus Crew have to delay a match because of lightning and that match has to be postponed, the decision should be made in Columbus, not by someone in New York City. In addition, the radar products used by MLS in New York might be outdated when compared to a product used by a local weather service in an MLS city.

Final Thoughts

Major League Soccer"s weather delay policy is often followed to the letter, but the use of local radars in MLS cities can reduce the headaches caused in the event of a postponed match. If you"re going to an MLS match and there"s threatening weather in the forecast, pay attention to weather reports and stay safe.

Main imiage credit Embed from Getty Images

Subscribe to our newsletter

Receive the latest sports news, exclusive stories, and updates. Stay Up-to-Date!