SBD/March 9, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

MLS Appears Primed For Breakthrough As It Begins 16th Season

David Beckham leads Galaxy into a potentially signature season for MLS
MLS is "fortifying its position" as the league enters its 16th season, and it may soon gain "relevance in the larger soccer universe and relevance in the American sporting landscape," according to Leander Schaerlaeckens of ESPN.com. While profitability "may still be a utopia," relevance would be "something much more valuable." The expansion Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps both "command such affection from their considerable fan bases that their commercial traction will further pad the league's coffers." The Timbers are the "toast of Portland and have already sold out most of their home games," while the Whitecaps "already lead the league in sponsorship revenue." MLS Commissioner Don Garber said, "We're certainly positioned to achieve growth. We've got two new teams, expanded rosters, 31 players signed from (MLS's own) academies and a number of great young players." In addition, Sporting K.C. is "moving into a new venue, to be followed next year" by the Dynamo and perhaps in '13 by the Earthquakes. When pressed to "rate the league's progress on a scale of one to 10 -- one being MLS's birth and 10 its full maturity, having achieved all of its goals -- commissioner Garber gave it a three." He said, "As a 16-year-old league, we're no longer a toddler. We're a teenager but we expect to live a long life." ESPN soccer analyst Alexi Lalas said, "There's a recognition that MLS is something that's not going away and, quite to the contrary, it's actually on the ascendance." Schaerlaeckens noted amid "all of the positive signs for the once beleaguered league, which had to contract two clubs as recently as 2001, the only blight on MLS recently has been its inability to negotiate a new long-term broadcast deal" with Fox Soccer. This offseason, "crunched for time by the deadline on releasing the television-driven schedule, the two ultimately settled on a one-year contract, meaning they will fight this battle anew next year" (ESPN.com, 3/7).
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