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Volume 23 No. 29
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At midseason, Garber touts new look with ‘MLS All-Star 2.0’

Commissioner Don Garber said his league’s game is “one of the most compelling” in sports but hinted at a new format.
Photo: getty images

Major League Soccer’s significant and rapid growth in recent years has included expansion into numerous markets and a rise in popularity around the country. The league is hoping that tweaks to its All-Star Game, which will be held Wednesday in Orlando, leads to further gains.

“We like to think of it as MLS All-Star 2.0,” Garber told Sports Business Journal. “This is the beginning of the next phase of growth for our midseason event.”

Five days of events culminate with the MLS All-Stars taking on La Liga’s Atlético de Madrid at Exploria Stadium. The game will be broadcast on FS1 and UniMás in the U.S. This is the third time the game will air on FS1, as it has rotated with ESPN since 2015. Last year’s game on ESPN drew 452,000 viewers. The league is hoping this year’s figure will reflect the growth it has had on television during the regular season to date, as its games are up 12% on ESPN and 14% on FS1 from its 2018 year-end average.

Among the new events this year is the MLS All-Star Skills Challenge, which takes place Tuesday night. It will be shown on MLSSoccer.com and the MLS App, in addition to the digital platforms of ESPN, Fox and Univision in the U.S. The new challenge follows the MLS Homegrown Game earlier that day at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. The league already was scheduled to host a concert with Prince Royce on Saturday and the eMLS All-Star Challenge on July 28, the latter in its second year.

The packed calendar has allowed for a plethora of sponsorship activation, highlighted by presenting sponsor Target, as well as Audi, Captain Morgan, Wells Fargo and many others. 

There may be other changes in the years ahead. Garber said the league is considering a new format for the game, potentially going back to an East vs. West format or having the MLS All-Stars play the Liga MX All-Stars. For now, though, Garber is happy with the best of his league squaring off with an elite international club. 

“We do believe we have one of the most compelling All-Star formats in all of sports,” he said. “There’s a real sense of pride that the game matters.”

The All-Star Game kicks off the second half of the MLS season, which will conclude with significant
changes to the league’s postseason format. Two-game aggregate series are no more, replaced with a single-elimination playoff system. That will condense the time needed to complete the postseason, and raise the stakes in each game.

“Clearly, the new format is going to have a super-sized sense of urgency,” Garber said. “We recognize that we’re moving away from this concept of a home-and-home series, which is very traditional in the sport of international football. But we think this is perfect for our fans.”

The wave of momentum for MLS is one it hopes to ride into 2026, when the World Cup comes to North America. The event will serve as “rocket fuel” for the popularity and success of the league and the sport, Garber said. 

“There isn’t a day in this office where we’re not thinking about putting plans together and putting the building blocks in place to gear up for the World Cup in 2026,” Garber said.