SBJ/20090316/SBJ In-Depth

Going to work with Don Garber

Here’s a look at a recent Tuesday for the MLS commissioner:

7:45 a.m.

Garber meets owner and executive committee member Dave Checketts for breakfast in New York at Pershing Square. The two talk about league financial matters, expansion and the 2009 MLS All-Star Game in Salt Lake City. By 9:30 a.m. Garber is in the MLS offices in Manhattan.

9:45 a.m.

Nelson Rodriguez, MLS senior vice president of strategic business development, and Evan Dabby, director of fan operations, meet Garber in the league’s conference room to discuss a fan code of conduct policy that Dabby has crafted. Before the meeting begins, Garber comments on how cold it is in the room. He walks over to the temperature gauge on the wall, pops off its protective cover and dials up the heat. As he does it, he says, “You’re not supposed to do this, but I know how to jerry-rig this thing.”

Garber returns and takes a seat at the head of the conference table. A black notebook and his BlackBerry Pearl sit beside him on the table as he reviews a sheet of paper with a fan code of conduct and listens to Dabby explain it.

“We need to do a few things here,” Garber says. “One is reduce (the size) of the fan code of conduct. Two is: How are we going to market it and disseminate it? We can promote it and get a player as a spokesperson and maybe integrate some PSA component on the Web site. More importantly to me right now is how we’re going to address the streamer policy issue (that became a problem in Columbus last year when fans started throwing streamers onto the field). That needs to get out to clubs prior to the season.”

Garber asks Dabby and Rodriguez to set up a meeting with the marketing department.

10:05 a.m.

Garber’s secretary interrupts and says that Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Chairman Larry Tannenbaum is on the phone. The commissioner gets up to take the call, which touches on the latest on David Beckham and an upcoming executive committee meeting. After 17 minutes, Garber returns and continues the fan meeting.

“Tell me about this fan bill of rights,” Garber says. “I thought this was a good thing for (AFL Commissioner David) Baker and their league.”

“It’s not so much you can’t do this, but when you come here you can expect this, special treatment,” Dabby said.

“I like this,” Garber says, “but I’d like to come up with a different name.”

He encourages Dabby to come up with a new name and a way to communicate the idea with fans.

10:30 a.m.

Rodriguez presents a new idea for MLS postseason branding, structure and format.

10:37 a.m.

Garber returns to his corner office to take a quick call with AEG’s Tim Leiweke to get the latest update on Beckham and ongoing negotiations with AC Milan. The office is a beige carpeted room that looks south down 5th Avenue. Garber’s desk sits in the farthest corner from the door overlooking the street. The other half of the office features two tan couches facing each other and two orange leather chairs, all arranged around a glass coffee table.

When the call ends, Todd Durbin (MLS senior vice president), Joe Machnik (assistantto the commissioner, on-field competition), Alfonso Mondelo (director of player programs), and MLS President Mark Abbott trickle in for a competition meeting. An intern named Matt Mead, who has been working for the league for two years, joins the meeting at Garber’s request. He has recently taken a job with UEFA in Switzerland , and Garber wants to see him before he goes.

The meeting begins with an update on Houston Dynamo player Kei Kamara, who reportedly verbally threatened a group of referees in a parking lot after a recent game.

“Did the official write it up?” Garber asks.

“Yes,” Machnik says.

Machnik recommends a multigame suspension and a meeting with Kamara and Nick Garcia, a San Jose Earthquakes player who continues to conflict with Kamara on the field. Garber asks the group to set up a call for him with the players.

11:15 a.m.

Machnik and Mondelo exit. Durbin stays and updates Garber on collective-bargaining agreement negotiations.

11:24 a.m.

SUM President Doug Quinn and Geoff Hayes, SUM vice president of special events, meet with Garber about MLS Cup and the MLS All-Star Game. Hayes updates the commissioner on a series of La Liga clubs that Real Salt Lake has been in negotiations with to play the MLS all-star team at the 2009 All-Star Game.

11:34 a.m.

Garber walks down the hall to see David Downs, the head of U.S. Soccer’s bid committee for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup. Downs shows him the office space where the bid committee will be set up.

11:41 a.m.

Garber meets with Paul Mott, MLS head of team services. As the two talk, Garber sits on the couch and eats a blueberry Dannon yogurt. Mott updates Garber on his recent trip to see the New York Red Bulls’ new stadium in Harrison, N.J. He also talks to Garber about hiring one more person for the team services group, and they run through a series of potential hires.

12:03 p.m.

Garber takes a break from meetings to catch up on e-mail and have another call with Tannenbaum.

12:30 p.m.

Kathy Carter, SUM executive vice president, and Marco Liceaga, creative director, update Garber on marketing plans for First Kick 2009, the league’s weeklong series of season-opening games. Four pages into a 21-page marketing plan, Garber’s secretary interrupts to let him know Checketts is on the line. Garber excuses himself for the call and talks with Checketts about MLS expansion in St. Louis.

The meeting resumes 15 minutes later when Garber returns. Liceaga reviews a series of efforts including online advertising and TV promotions. As he talks through the plan, he rubs his forehead.

“So here’s a Don thing,” he says, looking at a series of logos for the promotion. “The yellow kicker (image) on the white — why would we make a logo that somebody can’t see?”

“We’ve been using it some …” Liceaga says.

“We shouldn’t distribute anything out to the clubs with a white knockout, right?” Garber asks. “You can’t see it. In blue, it looks great.”

Garber asks Carter and Liceaga for an update on the league’s initiative to reach out to soccer publications to promote MLS. He encourages the marketing team to develop a similar college program for clubs to use. He wants to see one like the Celtics have in Boston where they sell discounted tickets at local colleges like Tufts University, where his daughter is in school.

1:20 p.m.

Garber heads to lunch with Abbott, Dan Courtemanche, director of communications, and a reporter at his favorite local Chinese spot, Evergreen, a half block from the office. The hostess greets him by his first name when he walks in and asks how many to seat. Garber orders for the table and an hour later heads back to the office to finish the day.

— Compiled by Tripp Mickle

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