SBD/December 4, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Garber's State Of MLS Address Offers Updates On Expansion, Transparency, Scheduling

Garber cites finding a proper facility as the final obstacle for a Miami franchise
MLS Commissioner Don Garber yesterday during his state of the league address "laid out plans to expand" the league to 24 teams by '20, and Miami and Atlanta "appear to be on the commissioner's wish list for the next wave of expansion, with each bringing potential big-name owners" into the fold, according to Sam McDowell of the K.C. STAR. Garber, speaking at Google's N.Y. HQs, said that he has "been in talks with David Beckham to take the lead on a Miami ownership group" that includes his Beckham's agent Simon Fuller, and with Falcons Owner Arthur Blank about a team in Atlanta. Garber said that the "lack of a facility is the final obstacle in talks with Miami." He added, "We hope to have 24 teams by the end of the decade. In order to do that, we need to expand strategically. We've got a big chunk of the country where we're not covered. That's the Southeast. We hope to be able to achieve that with Atlanta, with Orlando and Miami. But we have a lot of work to do in Atlanta and Miami." McDowell writes if MLS "elects to add Atlanta and Miami over the next few years, a spot would remain open for a 24th team." Garber said that the league would likely "look somewhere in the Midwest to fill that vacancy" adding St. Louis, Minneapolis, Austin and San Antonio remain possibilities. Meanwhile, Garber said, "Major League Soccer still loses money as an enterprise. We've got to find a way that we can get closer to a break-even enterprise." He added of the possibly moving to a winter schedule, "We don't think we're ready for that yet." McDowell notes MLS had 112 games sell out this season, "which ties a year-long record" set in '12 (K.C. STAR, 12/4).

EXPANDING YOUR HORIZONS: Garber said that he "remained optimistic" that Beckham and Fuller would get a deal done. Garber: "We are very excited about the opportunity of David putting together an ownership group and finalizing a stadium site in downtown Miami so that we could end up having what we hope would be our 22nd team in a city that's one of the largest in the country and has a strong and passionate soccer fan base." But he added that an impending announcement "was unlikely." Garber: "We can't go to Miami without the right stadium solution. David understands that. The city understands that. That is an indisputable fact. We can't have different rules for Miami than we'd have for any other city" (USA TODAY, 12/4). REUTERS' Steve Keating noted MLS will "hold a board meeting on Friday but Garber confirmed that the Beckham group will not be presenting a specific proposal for approval" (REUTERS, 12/3). In Atlanta, Doug Roberson notes the only detail Garber would provide yesterday regarding Atlanta's possible expansion team is that Blank is "still trying to decide" if owning an MLS team "makes sense for him." The Falcons' new $1.2B stadium is scheduled to open in '17 and "would most likely host the expansion franchise." Blank and MLS "have discussed opening the facility" with an MLS game (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 12/4).

TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF: Garber said that Toronto FC now "has the right people at the helm" with MLSE President & CEO Tim Leiweke. Garber: "Leiweke is one of the most talented and experienced sports executives in the history of our industry. If anybody can figure out how to turn that team around, it's Tim. And if this was a horse race, I'd be going first, second and third with my money on Tim." The CP's Neil Davidson noted Garber "pointed to Toronto's hire as GM of former league executive Tim Bezbatchenko, whom he called 'wicked smart.'" Garber: "Leiweke has never done anything but succeed at everything he's done. There is no question that I would put my money on him to succeed in Toronto" (CP, 12/3).

CALLS FOR TRANSPARENCY: PHILLY.com's Jonathan Tannenwald wrote perhaps the best question and best answer of Garber's Q&A session that followed his address "dealt with MLS' renowned lack of transparency." A Timbers fan, referencing the Sounders' acquisition of F Clint Dempsey, "asked Garber about the league's repeated pattern of disclosing new methods of player acquisition after the fact," and "quite bluntly asked Garber when the league would stop doing so much behind the scenes, and bring more of their affairs into public view." Garber responded, "We would never do anything that would place one team at a competitive advantage over another. But it just wasn't something that was part of our DNA, to open up from a transparency perspective, all of the rules from the league. We're in the process of doing that. The mechanism that got Clint Dempsey should have been exposed, or promoted, prior to -- as opposed to afterwards. Because we weren't trying to hide anything. So I think you'll see going forward that we will have more transparency in our rules" (PHILLY.com, 12/3). In Toronto, Kurtis Larson writes MLS "opened itself up to scrutiny earlier this season when Sports Illustrated first reported MLS solidified" Dempsey's move by paying EPL club Tottenham a $9M transfer fee. That "has some questioning how equitable the league's front office actually is" (TORONTO SUN, 12/4).

TV TWEAKS: Garber said that one of the league's plans to improve its TV ratings will be to schedule more consistent telecast dates, beginning with the '14 season. He added, "What we need to have is a consistent game or games of the week that run from the beginning to the end of the year, as much as we can at consistent times. If we're able to do that, it gets us halfway there" (Christopher Botta, Staff Writer).

OTHER ISSUES: Following his league address, Garber tackled several other issues facing the league on FS1's "Crowd Goes Wild." He said he thinks a "deal gets done" for a new DC United stadium near Nationals Park. Garber: "Economics are different, so unfortunately what was the Nationals getting a lot of public support, this will be a privately financed stadium.” He also addressed NYC FC, which will begin play in '15, by saying the club "shows where the league is." Garber said, "You have the Yankees and Manchester City, a club over in England, coming together, buying a team in New York City that’ll give us two clubs in New York. That’ll start in 2015, hopefully in a stadium that will be maybe even adjacent to Yankee Stadium" ("Crowd Goes Wild," FS1, 12/3).
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