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Volume 25 No. 234
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Looking Back: Don Garber's Notable Moments In 20 Years At MLS

During Garber's time at the helm, MLS has expanded from 12 to 27 clubs and developed 19 soccer stadiums
Photo: Marc Bryan-Brown

MLS Commissioner Don Garber on Sunday will celebrate his 20th anniversary running America’s top soccer league, having grown it to 27 teams with three more set to begin play in the next two years. With 20 years now in the books, THE DAILY looks back at some of the most notable moments during Garber’s tenure.

AUGUST 1999: Garber leaves the NFL to take over as MLS’ next commissioner, replacing Doug Logan. Garber came on at a difficult time for the league, which had only 12 teams and was facing skepticism from the American public. Garber’s first task: broadening the young league’s fan base and improving attendance across the board.

JANUARY 2002: MLS announces a five-year broadcast agreement with ABC and ESPN that includes MLS television rights and rights to the next two FIFA World Cup tournaments. The deal also includes rights to the ‘03 Women’s World Cup.

NOVEMBER 2004: MLS and the MLS Players Union reach a deal on the first CBA in league history, to run through the end of the ‘09 season. The agreement includes graduated minimum salary increases, 401k, guaranteed health benefits, improved life insurance and a neutral arbitration system. Labor is one issue MLS can put aside for now.

SEPTEMBER 2006: The league announces that it will begin placing ads on the front of players’ jerseys in the '07 season. MLS establishes a floor of $500,000 a year for uniform sponsors, with the league collecting a flat fee of about $200,000 from all deals. The league also has the authority to reject deals and won’t allow hard liquor or Internet casinos to buy space.

MARCH 2010: MLS and the MLSPU reach agreement on a new five-year labor deal less than a week before the regular season kicks off. The players come away with some concessions -- notably, a bump in compensation and an increase in guaranteed contracts -- but it is the league that wins out on the contentious issue of free agency.

AUGUST 2010: The MLS BOG approves a contract extension for Garber through ‘14. The four-year deal includes incentives and performance goals that could push his total pay to more than $3M annually. MLS owners expect Garber over the length of this contract to improve the league's television ratings, develop the league's new media business and develop the league's quality of play.

AUGUST 2011: MLS signs a three-year deal with NBC that will see regular-season games return to English-language broadcast television for the first time since ‘08. The deal is valued at $10M per year. The new broadcast partnership provides the league with a chance to grow its base.

JANUARY 2014: Garber signs a new five-year contract that will keep him in his position through the end of ‘18. By now, he has guided MLS through several waves of expansion that has nearly doubled its size from 10 to 19 franchises.

APRIL 2014: Garber is diagnosed with prostate cancer. Doctors say the cancer has not spread. He begins treatment at Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital in N.Y., to be followed by surgery at Mt. Sinai Hospital. Garber continues managing the league during treatment. In September, he announces he is cancer-free and needs no further treatment.

MAY 2014: MLS signs new eight-year media rights deals with ESPN, Fox and Univision. ESPN and Fox will pay a combined average of $75M for English-language rights to MLS and U.S. Soccer matches. Univision’s Spanish-language deal averages $15M per year. The agreements are priced five times higher than the average annual value of the league's current media deals.

JULY 2015: MLS announces a new CBA. The new CBA is a five-year deal that creates free agency for players 28 years of age or older, with at least eight years of experience. The deal comes at the end of a tense standoff between the league and the players, with free agency and player compensation representing the two major sticking points.

FEBRUARY 2019: MLS extends Garber’s contract through the ’23 season. He will be 66 by the end of this latest deal. During his time at the helm, MLS has expanded from 12 to 27 clubs, added many new owners and developed 19 soccer stadiums in the U.S. and Canada. Later, in May, Garber won the award for Executive of the Year at the Sports Business Awards.