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Volume 23 No. 29
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MLS promotes two veteran executives as it solidifies its leadership ranks

Following MLS Commissioner Don Garber signing a five-year contract extension last month, the league is also undergoing a slight reorganization of its most senior executives.

The league has promoted Gary Stevenson, who also serves as president of MLS Business Ventures, to deputy commissioner. In addition, Chief Administrative Officer JoAnn Neale has been promoted to president, while maintaining her existing title, making her one of the most senior female executives across all major professional leagues.

JoAnn Neale is now a league president at MLS, making her one of sports’ most senior female executives.
Photo: getty images

MLS President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott, MLS’s first employee, will continue in his role. All three will report directly to Garber.

The promotions of Neale and Stevenson will allow Abbott to be even more focused on the league’s competitive and operational side in addition to his other duties, Garber said. Abbott also serves as a primary point person on the league’s expansion efforts. The new MLS structure slightly mirrors Major League Baseball, which also splits deputy commissioner duties, with Dan Halem’s responsibilities listed as baseball administration and chief legal officer, while Tony Petitti’s are business and media.

Garber said that as he discussed his contract extension with the league’s board of governors, both sides were keen on “solidifying the long-term commitment of the most senior people that helped build this league and drive the success.”

Stevenson, who joined the league in 2013 after serving as an executive at a variety of sports properties, has been a crucial part of the league’s domestic and international commercial growth, as well as his work overseeing Soccer United Marketing. Garber said that his promotion to deputy commissioner “recognizes his leadership at the league level, as well as the level of respect and trust our board has in him.”

Neale, who joined the league in 1998 as legal counsel, had most recently held the title of chief administrative and social responsibility officer. With her promotion, she will also assume responsibility for strategic planning and information technology for MLS and Soccer United Marketing. Neale, who was the architect of the league’s social responsibility platform, MLS Works, will also continue to steer its overall strategy, and have oversight of the human resources, administration and facilities departments.

“JoAnn has a really good sense of building teams and managing organizational structure, so as we look at the continuing evolution of MLS, I think she’s the perfect person to lead these efforts,” Garber said.

All of the league’s most senior executives have multiyear agreements, Garber said, declining to comment on the details of those agreements outside of saying “this solidifies the leadership team at MLS for the years to come.”