SBD/Issue 51/Leagues & Governing Bodies

Garber: MLS To Explore Aligning Calendar With European Leagues

Garber Says MLS Will Increase Number
Of Playoff Teams From Eight To 10

MLS will explore aligning its calendar with those of major European leagues, such as the EPL, Spain's La Liga and Italy’s Serie A. At a pregame meeting before yesterday's MLS Cup in Toronto, where the Rapids beat FC Dallas 2-1, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said the league would do internal research to decide whether to abandon the current schedule, which runs March through November, for one that could run from August through May with a short winter break. “As we go out to Zurich and try to bring the World Cup back to the United States, we are saying to the world we are going to do the work to … ultimately have the right facts to change to the international calendar,” Garber said. “I’m not saying we’re doing it, we’re doing the work to figure out if we can.” The '11 season again will run from March through November and feature 34 regular season games, up from 30 this season, to accommodate the addition of teams in Portland and Vancouver. The league will feature a balanced schedule where clubs play each other an equal number of times. MLS will also increase the number of clubs in the playoffs from eight to 10 for '11, although officials have yet to finalize a playoff format. According to Garber, MLS has not established a plan for deciding on a schedule change, and said the league will weigh a variety of issues into a potential schedule change. “How do you play games in Montreal in February?” Garber said. “We’re going to look at everything. The best part of projects like this is that nothing is off the table" (Fred Dreier, SportsBusiness Journal).

CHANGE WILL DO YOU GOOD? Garber said of looking at changing the league's schedule, "We are going to do some research and hire the right people to do that analysis and it could be that we at some point can get to an alignment with the world’s calendar. I know that FIFA would like to see that happen. We’ll spend the next couple of years figuring out whether that makes sense for us” (“MLS Cup Final,” ESPN, 11/21). In DC, Steve Goff noted FIFA has "been critical of MLS's March-to-November schedule," and with the U.S. in a "heated race to win the hosting rights to the 2022 World Cup, Garber's comments seem to be a gesture to bolster the U.S. bid." But weather is a "big factor in switching to a late-summer-to-spring schedule." Garber suggested the "likelihood of taking a break in December and January." MLS has "not set a timetable for completing the study" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 11/21). Garber said yesterday, "I don’t think we’d ever be playing games in January and February. The question is could you play games in December? I guess conceivably we could be playing in parts of February" (TORONTO STAR, 11/22). ESPN.com's Leander Schaerlaeckens wrote MLS "went 0-for-2 on the decisions" it announced yesterday. MLS will "end up diluting the importance of the regular season as well as playoffs" by adding two more playoff teams, and the altered schedule "robs the league of the chief boon of the current system -- little competition from other big American sports." Schaerlaeckens: "These decisions serve short-term interests, but not long-term interests of the sport in the U.S." (ESPN.com, 11/21).

FIRESIDE CHAT: Garber Friday sat down with SI's Grant Wahl for "what has become an annual one-on-one chat about the league and soccer in America." The following is a portion of their conversation.

 

Q: You had Kansas City drop the Wizards name this week and re-brand itself as Sporting Kansas City. The public reaction so far has been mixed. What's your reaction?

Garber: People in our sport are going to be shocked when they spend more time with the ownership group in Kansas City. This is an example of what's going on behind the scenes to drive the growth of MLS. It's a bunch of young guys that understand the game. ... What OnGoal has done is recognize that their goal is to be not just a soccer team in that market [but] to pattern themselves after what FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have done and create a true sporting club. That's why they re-branded.

Q: The Colorado Rapids are in the final for the first time since Stan Kroenke became the team's owner. ... What's your sense of his commitment to MLS?

Garber: This man is very committed to MLS. He has a different approach in terms of his own profile than many other owners in pro sports do, but I never have had any concerns about his commitment to MLS.

Q: MLS' TV deal with Fox Soccer Channel is up at the end of this year. What's the status of those talks and those with Versus?

Garber: We continue to be engaged deeply in conversations with Fox on the renewal of our agreement. I know we're hopeful we can renew it at terms that makes sense for us, and I'm sure Fox is thinking the same way. ... At the same time we'll continue to have conversations with others out of a responsibility to ensure that we're covering the market.

Q: I've heard talk that every team in MLS may have a shirt sponsor next season. Is that true?

Garber: Most teams will. A number of new deals are looking to get done. ... In my view every team should have a shirt sponsor, and if they don't they should be focused on it fully. But I don't know if every team will next season.

Q: The women's soccer league, WPS, is struggling, having dropped its championship team this week. Would MLS ever consider taking on the running of a women's league?

Garber: No. We've spent a lot of time over the last number of years working with both the WUSA and the WPS, and clearly it's disappointing that it doesn't seem to be able to capture the market (SI.com, 11/19).

TREAT YOUR VISITORS NICELY: In Portland, Geoffrey Arnold reported MLS is "close to developing a formal policy to address away ticket sales," and the "new policy will allow teams to sell more than the current limit of 150 tickets to fans of visiting teams." MLS wants to "deal with the growing issue that has surfaced, particularly in the Pacific Northwest." MLS Exec VP/Communications Dan Courtemanche said, "In the coming weeks or shortly after the first of the year, we anticipate that we will have a formal policy." Sounders Owner Joe Roth "created a controversy when he reportedly said that the Sounders would limit away tickets to 150, which is stipulated by current MLS policy" (OREGONLIVE.com, 11/19). Meanwhile, MLS, team owners and SUM on Friday announced a $2M donation to the USA Bid Committee to help land the '22 FIFA World Cup (MLS).

TOP OF THE CLASS: MLS gave out its league awards yesterday afternoon, and they are as follows (THE DAILY).

EXECUTIVE AWARDS
Exec of the Year
(Doug Hamilton award)
Red Bulls Managing Dir Erik Stover
Marketing Dynamo Senior VP Rocky Harris
Corporate Partnerships Real Salt Lake VP/Corporate Sales & Service Katie Mattis
Team Administrator Toronto FC Team Services Dir Corey Wray
Concessionaire/Merchandiser Red Bull Arena Manager Brett Salzenstein
Ticketing Sounders FC VP/Ticket and Retail Sales & Service Chuck Arnold
Local Digital Editor Philadelphia Union New Media Coordinator Judah Levine
TEAM AWARDS
Ticket Sales Sounders FC
Operations Sounders FC
Corporate Partnerships Toronto FC
PR Real Salt Lake
Community Relations Fire
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