Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 23 No. 23

Leagues and Governing Bodies

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
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
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.

NASCAR has hired McKinsey & Co. to consult on its planned integration with International Speedway Corp., sources said, as the sanctioning body plans out the historic privatization of the France family’s track company.

 

Led by Chairman and CEO Jim France and ISC CEO Lesa France Kennedy, the founding family of NASCAR has spearheaded an ambitious, $2 billion plan to take the publicly traded ISC private and make it part of the private sanctioning body. ISC owns 13 major NASCAR-hosting tracks across the U.S., in addition to several drag strips and real estate ventures that include a shopping center adjacent to Daytona International Speedway and a casino at Kansas Speedway.

The idea is that it will be easier to do business and find more value in the entities by uniting NASCAR and ISC, rather than keeping them separate. Sources said McKinsey will help figure out the new structure of the combined company.

NASCAR and McKinsey declined comment.

“It’s a good move on their part because they’re merging these two companies, and to put them together in the right way, it’s smart to hire some experts [in that space],” said Lauri Eberhart, co-founder of the Apollo Sports & Entertainment Law Group and a former executive vice president and general counsel for racetrack owner Speedway Motorsports Inc. “What you’re going to see is McKinsey looking at: ‘How do we best combine these two companies?’ They’ve got duplications on both sides. … What you’ll also see is [McKinsey identify] areas that are very inherent to NASCAR and there is no duplication, like competition.”

NASCAR and McKinsey have worked together on projects in the past. Scott Prime, NASCAR’s vice president of strategic development, is a former McKinsey executive.

Areas that are most ripe to be consolidated, according to industry executives, are administration, legal, accounting and possibly sales and marketing, although sources cautioned that the sport will still need a robust sales staff and localized marketing, which could keep those departments with a higher employee count. C-suite changes are unclear, although clearly NASCAR’s leaders will have greater oversight of track operations. ISC President John Saunders, who has been with the company since 1998, has been seen as approaching the end of his tenure, and sources say he could leave the company in the months after the acquisition closes.

The deal to combine the companies is not yet complete, but NASCAR cleared its biggest hurdle in May by announcing that ISC’s special committee, which represents non-France shareholders, accepted a $45 per-share price. NASCAR’s initial bid in November was $42, and ISC’s proxy statement to the Securities & Exchange Commission revealed that France and France Kennedy threatened to end the bid in late March when the ISC special committee demanded $46 per share.

Meanwhile, Moody’s this month rated NASCAR for the first time and examined what the combined NASCAR-ISC will look like. Moody’s gave the $1.4 billion credit facility that NASCAR willl use to help finance the acquisition of ISC a Ba2 rating, which is the second best on its junk scale. It said NASCAR’s 
outlook is “stable with revenue projected to be flat to slightly positive as higher TV broadcast revenue offsets declines in
admission and food, beverage, and merchandise revenue.”

The NASCAR-ISC deal is expected to be completed by the end of this year. It comes as rival track operator Speedway Motorsports Inc. also progresses on the Smith family’s plan to privatize its tightly controlled but publicly traded company.