SBD/August 6, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

MLS President Disputes Blatter's Comment About Schedule, Addresses Other Issues

Mark Abbott says Euro-style promotion/relegation not happening in MLS
While FIFA President Sepp Blatter on Monday said that MLS is "pressing ahead with plans to realign its schedule with the FIFA calendar," MLS President & Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott "maintains the league's stance has not changed," according to Luke Wileman of TSN. Abbott, speaking in Portland yesterday ahead of tonight's MLS All-Star Game, said, "We looked at it last fall and concluded that at this point in time it is not a change we could make. There is nothing imminent." He addressed several other issues, including whether the league would move to a format of promotion and relegation for its member teams. Abbott: "I would say that never happens." Meanwhile, he said of NBA Kings Managing Partner Vivek Ranadive's reported interest in buying the USL Sacramento Republic and elevating the club to MLS, "There are significant people in Sacramento who have an interest in seeing MLS come there, including [Mayor Kevin Johnson]. I do not want to get into specifics regarding potential ownership groups but we have great respect for what the ownership groups have done with the Kings and also Sacramento Republic." Updating the status of Chivas USA, Abbott said, "We've been spending a lot of time talking to potential buyers. ... I don't have a specific timetable yet but it is an area of high focus for me." He added, "We have been looking at USC as a potential site for a stadium. Our focus is on a central L.A. location. We are not going to publicly negotiate the price but it will be more than was paid by Orlando" (TSN.ca, 8/5).

GARBER'S GAMBLE: SPORTS ON EARTH's Colin McGowan wrote MLS Commissioner Don Garber's policies have "reflected that he's no delusionalist." Garber has, since MLS "nearly collapsed" in '02, set "reasonable goals and helped the league grow at a sustainable rate over the past decade-plus." What was once a "methodical reconstruction project is starting to take on the shape of an overly optimistic gambit." Garber has said that he "wants a 24-team league" by '20. McGowan wrote that is a goal MLS is "definitely going to achieve." But even if this "rapid expansion doesn’t result in financial ruin the way it did in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it’s almost certain to hurt the league in one way or another." Garber was commissioner when the league "went close to belly up, so one assumes he’s acutely risk conscious, and by extension, that all these new franchises will help the league grow in some meaningful fashion." But expansion is "never entirely good news." Either the league is "gambling on succeeding in some less-than-optimal markets -- and could very well lose -- or it’s going to become less fun to watch." Garber and his "band of supposedly ingenious owners are going out on a limb in search of greater success." McGowan: "Let's see if it snaps" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 8/5).

SOMEBODY'S WATCHING ME: In Portland, Geoffrey Arnold writes MLS' attendance "has grown incrementally, but steadily in recent years, but its television audience has been abysmal." Most "players, coaches and analysts agree that expanding the TV audience is crucial to MLS's hopes of becoming a heavyweight in the U.S. sports landscape." Galaxy F Landon Donovan said, "It's sort of the final frontier for us. We've seen that people come to our games and a lot of people are talking about it. The last frontier is how do you get it exciting enough for people to want to watch on TV." But Arnold writes the "good news for MLS is that viewership for league games has increased this season." ESPN has "averaged 308,000 viewers for its MLS regular-season games" in '14, a 42% increase compared to a similar point in '13, when the net "averaged 217,000 viewers." NBC and NBCSN are "averaging 165,808 viewers through 13 games," which represents an 81% increase compared to '13, when the "average was 91,457." Producing "more star power and a cleaner product on the field are part of the answer for MLS to increase its television presence." Other factors include "better promotion and consistent scheduling of games, along with getting MLS teams in all the large media markets." But more stars and "a better on-field product will attract the casual fan, which will likely equal more viewers." More viewers will "get television's attention, leading to larger broadcast contracts and more money to spend on players" (Portland OREGONIAN, 8/6).
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