MLS' Garber Credits Beckham For Impact On League, Says Second N.Y. Team Close
MLS Galaxy MF David Beckham "may be on his way out," but Commissioner Don Garber was clear during yesterday's state of the league conference call that the league is "in a far different place than it was back when the English icon signed nearly six years ago," according to Brian Straus of SPORTING NEWS. Garber said, "We needed David Beckham in 2007 to help drive our credibility. We don't need anything today." Garber continued, "I believe we had 12 teams in the league. We had not yet had the television relationships that we have today. We had probably half the number of soccer(-specific) stadiums and the league was just more immature." Garber noted there was "still a lot of work to do to figure out" how Beckham's ownership option "gets exercised." Garber confirmed that Beckham "will not be able to purchase an interest in the expansion club planned" for N.Y. Garber: "There is a possibility for him to work with the league office to find ways to transfer that option into an opportunity in LA." Garber also noted that the "34-game regular season and playoff format (including an MLS Cup final at the site of the participant with the better record) will remain in place next year." The one change will be "an earlier start." After kicking off on March 10 this season, MLS "will open its 18th season on March 2, its earliest launch ever." Garber "promised that MLS 'will continue to invest massive amounts of money' in player development and acknowledged Monday that the league’s investment to this point, which has reached $20 million per year, 'has not yet paid off'" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 11/26).
MARKETING MACHINE: Garber said that Beckham "did everything" MLS asked of him to "grow football" in the U.S. The AP's Ronald Blum notes Beckham "left Real Madrid in 2007 to sign a $32.5 million, five-year deal with the Galaxy," he said then that he "wanted to win and increase the league’s popularity both domestically and abroad." Garber said, "I don’t think anybody would doubt that he has overdelivered on every one of those measures. There’s arguably not a soccer fan on this planet that doesn’t know the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer, and David played a significant role in helping us make that happen" (AP, 11/27). In L.A., Phil Collin writes of Beckham, "As polarizing as a world icon can sometimes be, even critics won't be able to deny that soccer in America has been boosted beyond what many thought was attainable." But the "most interesting aspect of Beckham's overall legacy ... won't be able to be measured for years." Galaxy VP Chris Klein said, "If you look at David and his time here, his influence has spanned everything that our league touches, from commercially what our league looks like, to ticket sales, to soccer-specific stadiums, to designated players being more interested in our league" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 11/27). In Miami, Michelle Kaufman wrote Beckham "leaves the league stronger than he found it, and he no doubt made a significant contribution to that growth." His "international name recognition and sex appeal, and his genuine commitment to raise the profile of American soccer, left an indelible mark." He did "make a difference. A big difference. A difference that surely was worth the $32.5 million investment." Kaufman: "Yes, Becks was worth every penny" (MIAMI HERALD, 11/25).
NEW YORK STATE OF MIND: Garber yesterday said MLS is "at the finish line" in talks with Queens for a stadium to house the league's 20th team. In N.Y., Bill Price reports that team "could be the Cosmos," which has reportedly offered Beckham a role "as both a player and executive." A source yesterday said that "while Beckham could not be on an MLS board, the Cosmos could get around that by appointing him as an executive." A Cosmos source said, "David has confirmed his interest, and we expect an announcement before Christmas" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/27). Cosmos Dir of Soccer Eric Cantona said his aim was to make the club "the best team in the US, in the world." Cantona: "Our ambition is to have the best team in the country, with most of the players coming from the (youth) academy and help the country win the World Cup one day." Cantona, who will "work closely with former US World Cup star Cobi Jones on all football-related matters," said that the club and N.Y. "had revived his interest in the game he left to pursue other avenues and interest, including acting and politics" (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, 11/26). Garber said of a potential Queens club, "Many potential ownership groups have expressed interest." He declined to name the suitors, but said MLS hopes to have confirmation of terms with the city of N.Y. "in the near future" for a 10-acre site in Flushing Meadows Corona Park (Christopher Botta, SportsBusiness Journal). Garber said that MLS "hopes to have the team start play in 2016." Garber said, "There are 13 million people in this city. Many of them love the game. We need to give them all an opportunity to stop for a moment and pay attention to Major League Soccer." Garber also noted that the "Red Bulls do not have the right to block a second team in the market." He said, "I’m not at all concerned about [Red Bulls GM Jerome de Bontin's] point of view. I think it’s just part of being new. We’ve had the full support of Red Bulls ownership." Garber said that possibilities for expansion beyond N.Y. "include Atlanta, Orlando, Miami and Minneapolis." The AP's Blum noted MLS is "negotiating with the Mets to use the parking lots adjacent to Citi Field" (AP, 11/26).
RIVALRY IN THE MAKING? In N.Y., Brian Lewis noted former Red Bulls GM Erik Soler used to "tout the idea that rivalries and local derby games always were the lifeblood of soccer." Garber said, "Once he [de Bontin] has a greater understanding, he'll be as supportive as other GMs." Garber added that he "hadn't heard about reports claiming Red Bull might sell off its team" (NYPOST.com, 11/26).
STADIUM UPDATES: Garber said of a potential new stadium for DC United, "I believe there is new momentum in DC. There seems to be a more focused approach with (partner) Jason Levien both with local government but also with local developers who have access to land. Both (MLS President) Mark Abbott and I have been in discussions the last week with the holder of that land." Garber said of the Revolution finding a new venue, "The Kraft family continues to be focused on trying to find a soccer stadium solution downtown. … We are looking for public support up in that area because of the cost of developing a project there." On potential expansion, Garber said, "We need to be south of Washington, D.C. It isn’t a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. And it’s probably a matter of where. We continue to believe Florida needs an MLS team. At some point, I think, it would make sense for a team in Miami. I don’t know when that is; it’s certainly not now" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 11/26). In Columbus, Adam Jardy notes MLS "continues to assist Hunt Sports Group in its efforts to find local investors for the Crew." But Garber said that there is "no timetable to transfer ownership." Garber said, "There is absolutely no timetable for the Hunts to leave Major League Soccer. Without the Hunts, there is no Major League Soccer. We’re working with them to support them in any and every way that we can in Columbus." Jardy notes the Crew's "search for more local investors has been largely fruitless." Garber said that should the Hunts be "unable to sell the team to local investors ... there are no plans to explore relocation options" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 11/27).
TIME TO MAKE A MOVE: Garber said Toronto FC is looking to make some "bold moves" to improve the product on the field. The CP's Neil Davidson noted TFC "missed the playoffs for the sixth straight year since joining the league." But Garber said that he "has faith in the new ownership structure of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment as well as president Tom Anselmi." Garber: "It certainly pains us a bit. We look back at what was such an incredible story in '07, that clearly was one of the launching pads for the development of what we call MLS 2.0. And to see that not continue to the level it was in the early years is disappointing." Garber "did not detail the planned moves but suggested they might be imminent." He was "more positive about Montreal, calling the expansion Impact 'an instant success.'" Garber said, "This has been a great expansion move for us. We're proud of our three clubs in Canada" (CP, 11/26).
THE RIGHT CHOICE: In DC, Steven Goff noted the decision this year to shift from a neutral MLS Cup site to a team venue "was the right one: The game deserves an impassioned audience for the purposes of stadium atmosphere and TV images." The neutral-site policy "worked in most cases: Three 'hosts' happened to advance to the final in 16 years." But MLS "also took a public relations hit with no-shows, early departures and general indifference in places such as Dallas and Toronto." The predetermined venue "had run its course" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 11/26).