Don Garber Discusses State Of MLS, Tenure As Commissioner
MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who is entering his third decade leading the league, recently discussed how MLS "found its way off life support and carved out a place for itself in the American sports landscape," according to a Q&A with Ken Belson of the N.Y. TIMES. Below are excerpts from the conversation, some of which have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: How bad was the state of MLS early in your tenure?
Garber: I remember [in '99] going to my first MetroStars game with [Deputy Commissioner] Mark Abbott and Ivan Gazidis, who was the head of competition. There were so few people in the stadium that no one checked my credential. I remember thinking, this is going to be a long hard ride. But there were 200 fans in the end zone screaming and carrying on. I remember turning to Ivan and saying, ‘We need to make those 200, 2,000.’
Q: You have been praised for bringing David Beckham to MLS in '07. You also have been criticized for giving him an option to buy a team for only $25M.
Garber: If David Beckham doesn’t come to MLS, I don’t think we’d be where we are today. He came in and was a massive storm of media coverage and it never stopped for the six years he was in the league.
Q: Which decision during your tenure would you want to do over?
Garber: The rush to Chivas USA in 2005 was not the best idea. We thought by having a Mexican team’s brand in L.A., we’d have fans and it turned out not to be true.
Q: A lot has changed in two decades. What stands out?
Garber: Years ago, the former president of FIFA (Sepp Blatter) literally had no time for MLS. He looked at it with one part disdain and another part absolute dismissal. Today, our reputation has shifted dramatically. Our players are getting sold. Our facilities, the media and marketing and social media that all leagues in North America have sets us apart (N.Y. TIMES, 8/4).