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Volume 24 No. 158

Leagues and Governing Bodies

It seems "rather appropriate" that Saturday’s Real Salt Lake-Sporting KC MLS Cup championship is being played between two of the league’s small-market franchises "who continue to provide the league with a major-league feel," according to Kurtis Larson of the TORONTO SUN. SKC G Jimmy Nielsen said, "There’s so much attention to the MLS Cup and a lot of media. It’s just a signal to how much soccer is growing in America." Saturday's game will not be "the first cold-weather MLS Cup, but it’s set to be one of the most frigid matches in MLS history." Still, it is "the hottest ticket in town" and also is one of the "top-sellers in recent memory." Forbes noted that with average ticket prices "swelling above $300 on the second-hand market," the title game is the "second-most expensive game Kansas City has hosted over the last five years." However, the league "still has challenges." MLS "barely rates in places like New England and Chicago, important markets it will continue to court" (TORONTO SUN, 12/6).'s Simon Borg wrote Saturday will be "the first time that two teams outside the Top 10 media markets in the country will be contesting the league's championship match." While fans of other sports "sometimes roll their eyes with indifference at small-market showdowns, for MLS supporters -- even for those from the other 17 teams -- this 'small market' final is a badge of honor." It stands for "what the American top-flight soccer league is all about." Meanwhile, the introduction of MLS' salary system was about "more than just avoiding a premature financial implosion," as what it actually "introduced was parity." In this regard, Europe is "slowly catching on to what's happening in MLS." Parity is "one of the pillars on which MLS's identity is built." It is one of the "points of difference that allows the US league to stand out in the crowded world soccer marketplace" (, 11/27).

BRIGHT FUTURE: In S.F., Alan Black writes for MLS going forward, "expansion is the message." There are several "positives" for the league as the season comes to an end: "Attendance continues to rise. The fan culture grows and is louder than ever. Spectacular describes the scenes in Portland and Seattle." The main "downside" is that TV viewership "remains low." Way more fans "watch the star-studded foreign leagues." Black: "Steering the soccer ship through expansion and deeper money waters will be dangerous. It has to be said that the league has done a good job in managing the direction" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 12/6).

: USA TODAY's Steve Brisendine notes when MLS "looks at adopting the FIFA schedule of August through May, one constant sticking point is the prospect of playing winter matches in cold-weather cities." But in previous high-profile matches held in chilly conditions this year, "both at the club and international level, the low mercury readings haven't translated into low attendance." But SKC F CJ Sapong said, "There are certain cities in this league that no matter what the weather is, you're not going to get people to sell out the crowd." RSL manager Jason Kreis said that while the league might be inching closer to realigning its season, ... "it's not there yet." He said, "There are some things the teams here could do. All the fields [in Europe] have underground heating. ...There are measures you can take to bring the fans out, and I think we're getting very close." RSL MF Kyle Beckerman said, "We're getting to that point where we're packing out all our stadiums no matter what. But personally, I think the quality goes down a little bit when the field's rock-hard or the snow starts piling up" (USA TODAY, 12/6).

THE MAN IN CHARGE: MLS Commissioner Don Garber sat down with for an interview. He said of Saturday's cold-weather forecast, "This is what we intended to do, which was to reward the home fans and the home club with the benefit, the dream, of hosting the final, because they earned it. Yeah, the weather is going to be cold. But the stadium will be packed." Asked about whether cities should put public money toward MLS facilities, Garber said, "It is, without doubt, a good investment ... When you have the right facility, it enables the team to be successful so it can compete ... To say that those buildings don’t make economic sense after they’ve been around four or five years, after a funding program that has a 25 or 30 term to it, isn’t good news, but I don’t think it’s the whole story." Garber said of a small-market MLS Cup title game, "For us to think for one minute that that is not good for Major League Soccer would be violating one of the core equities that it was founded on...If the larger markets don’t like it, they’ve got to find a way to beat them." He said of K.C. as a soccer market, "It’s become a real beacon of hope for what soccer can be in America." Finally, Garber said of NYC FC not yet developing its brand, "I don’t know if it’s resonance or traction that’s the issue. They’re not out in front of it quite as much as an existing (USL Pro) team like Orlando City. (NYC FC) have a good plan. They’re very capable. They do have a brand...(Manchester City CEO) Ferran Soriano is one of the best sports executives in any sport in any country" (, 12/6).

: Garber said of Chivas USA, "There is no chance that club is going to be contracted, and no chance that club is being moved" (, 12/5). He added, "We'll figure out a way to fix it. I'm not going to talk today about what that plan is, but we have a plan" (, 12/5). In Austin, Kevin Lyttle notes MLS' expansion plans "include possibly considering Austin for a franchise by the end of the decade." MLS "would be quite a leap from the Austin Aztex, who play in the USL Premier Development League, the fourth tier of the U.S. soccer pyramid." The obstacles to Austin expansion "would be significant ones, especially finding a suitable venue." Voters have "shown little interest in funding professional sports projects" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 12/6).

NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France on Thursday held his annual state of the sport press address in Las Vegas as the governing body "continues to work on improving its on-track product," according to Jenna Fryer of the AP. France said, "Obviously, we want to get more lead changes, we want to get closer, tighter competition. I'd love a photo finish every weekend." France hinted that there could be a larger emphasis "placed on winning and changes coming to the qualifying process." France: "Do I think we have it perfect in terms of the right incentives to win? I don't think we do." He also "downplayed an overhaul" to the '15 Sprint Cup schedule when NBC takes over the second half of the NASCAR TV package. France: "There might be a change or two, but I wouldn't predict any significant changes." Meanwhile, F1 this week scheduled next season's U.S. Grand Prix in Austin for the same weekend as NASCAR's Texas Motor Speedway race in the fall, and France said, "Well, I wouldn't have done that myself. I'm sure they had the same kind of scheduling challenges that we do. They go all over the world, and that was what they chose. It wouldn't be my first choice. I expect them to suffer a lot more than Texas will suffer. I don't think it's good for either group or either series. That's their prerogative to schedule events when they want to and see how it works out" (AP, 12/5).

ATTRACTIVE ASSET: France said that the timing in NASCAR's purchase of Iowa Speedway "was right after the track went through several management and ownership changes." He said that the Iowa purchase "did not set a precedent." France: "It's an attractive asset in a region of the country that is very NASCAR centric, and they run multiple events for multiple series, they've had a lot of success" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 12/6).

TAKING A STAND: France also addressed the Michael Waltrip Racing manipulation scandal at Richmond Int'l Raceway and said, "I was very angry about it. I also knew ... if we dealt with it, if we dealt with it really straight on, that we wouldn't have a long-term blemish." He added, “It does test you a little bit. In every sport sometime in the cycle -- hopefully it’s very rare -- has a moment where these things happen. I like what our group did. In six days, investigate three different situations, rule on them, rewrite entire important rules.” France: "Our first priority was to deal swiftly, not let something linger into the Chase or get confused with that. The second was try to do the right thing, even if it wasn’t going to be the most popular thing. And the third thing that I found out in these kind of situations is trying to explain a solution in a very complicated set of circumstances is probably the hardest thing to do. But looking back, I wouldn’t change anything, and I’m not one of these guys that walks around and never says that. ... I knew that our credibility would be preserved if we did the right thing and we acted swiftly, and over time" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/6).

In St. Paul, Charley Walters notes the NBA guaranteed the T'Wolves "$750,000 plus expenses for moving Wednesday night's home game to Mexico City" to play the Spurs. But after the game was cancelled, the T'Wolves and the NBA "need to negotiate how much of the $750,000 the team is due." It is unclear whether the game "was insured against arena malfunction." The game will be rescheduled for Target Center, but among concerns for the T'Wolves is where the league "will try to squeeze it in during an already-busy schedule." The T'Wolves want to "avoid having to play back-to-back games after traveling" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 12/6). Meanwhile, ESPN's Dan Le Batard said Mexico City is a "great market for the NBA to get into if they want to expand globally and not have to do what the NFL is doing which is flying people over to London." Le Batard: "There are a lot of people in that market with a lot of money and a lot of interest in basketball" ("Highly Questionable," ESPN2, 12/5).

GET 'EM WHILE THEY'RE HOT: In Vancouver, Jim Jamieson notes tickets to the March 2 Senators-Canucks NHL Heritage Classic game were "being gobbled up by fans on Thursday," providing the league with "no worries about the event being overpriced or under-appreciated." An NHL spokesperson on Thursday said that 75% of BC Place "had already been sold out for the game." It is "not hard to see why the league opted to go with six of these events this season" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 12/6).

FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT: The AP's Dan Gelston noted UFC has "hunkered down in New Jersey and latched on to the NFL for Super exposure in perhaps the biggest weekend in sports." New York is the "lone state running against the trend of holding regulated MMA cards," so UFC will hold its Super Bowl weekend show at Prudential Center in Newark. With all the media opportunities in and around Super Bowl week, holding the PPV card "in the same state helps Fox and the UFC to work together and align themselves with the country's biggest sporting event." The opportunity is there for UFC "to attract even more fans, and maybe sway some New York lawmakers" (AP, 12/5).

SHOW ME THE REPLAY: In S.F., John Shea wrote now that the time has come for MLB to "join the expanded-replay party, the fans need to be invited." Baseball is "opening the door to a whole new technological world with a new type of fan, one who demands replays right away." The modern fan will "turn to his smartphone, anyway." So put it "on the scoreboard." Shea: "Controversial/challenged call or no controversial/challenged call. No more need to deprive him/her when luxury-suite revelers can see the replay anyway" (, 12/4).