Don Garber Talks Crew Relocation, Beckham-Miami In State Of League Address
MLS Commissioner Don Garber on Friday in his State of the League press conference addressed the "consternation and controversy surrounding the potential relocation" of the Crew to Austin, which many insiders "regard as something close to a fait accompli," according to Brian Straus of SI.com. Garber said, "We never want to relocate a team. And while no decision has been made to relocate the Crew, MLS is supportive of [Chair Anthony Precourt’s] efforts to explore (his) options in Austin." Garber said that Precourt "isn't [interested] in selling the Crew and isn’t going to stop pursuing a stadium solution in Austin." He added that Columbus "will have to be willing to negotiate while Precourt is on 'parallel paths.'" Garber said the Columbus market has been having "issues ... almost since the beginning." He said the Crew have been "struggling to resonate." Garber said that the value of the Crew’s "commercial partnerships with jersey sponsor Acura and stadium naming rights sponsor Mapfre Insurance are 'the lowest' in the league." Average regular season attendance this year was 15,439, which "ranked 20th in the 22-team circuit" (SI.com, 12/8). In Columbus, Michael Arace noted FS1's Alexi Lalas "posed the most pointed question to Garber." Lalas asked if it was "disingenuous" from the league or Precourt to "not have made it public that this move was contractually based at the time of the sale." Hunt Sports Group had "turned down a local buyer and instead sold the team back to the league -- which in turn sold it to Precourt, at a profit." The sales agreement included an "escape clause for Austin." For more than four years, "nobody in Columbus was aware that Precourt and the league were Authentically Austin" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 12/10).
FIELD OF DREAMS: Garber said that Detroit's bid for an MLS franchise will "test whether the league re-embraces playing in NFL stadiums." In Detroit, Gregg Krupa noted MLS has "emphasized playing in smaller, soccer-specific stadiums in downtown areas." While Ford Field "fills only one of those three criteria, Garber seemed upbeat in his assessment of the Detroit bid." Krupa: "But will Ford Field not being a small soccer-specific stadium halt MLS expansion in Detroit?" Garber said, "That question is going to get answered as we debate Detroit’s bid, which was very strong. They had a very creative way of downsizing Ford Field" (DETROIT NEWS, 12/9). Also in Detroit, George Sipple wrote under the header, "Ford Field Means League Would Be Crazy To Pass On Detroit." MLS "didn’t expect" Atlanta United to "draw more than 800,000 fans this season" at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and it "can’t ignore the heightened level of interest for its product." It should "make every effort to duplicate that" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 12/10).
SOUTH BEACH SAVIOR? Garber said that he remains "'confident' they will work out a deal" for David Beckham’s MLS franchise in Miami. In Miami, Michelle Kaufman noted Garber believes a "yet-to-be-named local owner would help resolve the challenges the group has faced since Beckham first proposed the team" in February '14. Garber: "It is the most complicated situation in any market that we’ve experienced, at least in my 18 years. Part of it has been complicated by the Miami market generally. It’s a difficult sports market. The second part of that is that it’s one of the fastest-growing value markets as it relates to their real estate. Third is the political structure. There’s a variety of different mayors all for the same space." He added, "Part of it is we've needed a local owner because we’ve seen that in at least in the success of some of those Miami teams, having a local owner has been one of the factors." Garber concluded by "affirming that MLS has not given up on the idea of a Miami team" (MIAMI HERALD, 12/9).