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MLS draws the bottom line on goal-line technology
by Ridge Mahoney, April 26th, 2013 12:18PM

TAGS:  mls, referees


By Ridge Mahoney

He'll take some heat for this one, but one can't really rip Commssioner Don Garber for citing exorbitant costs as the reason MLS won't implement goal-line technology in the near future.

Associated Press ran a story Thursday detailing Garber’s rationale for the Board of Governors’ decision not to install GLT. Though FIFA approved last July the use of GLT in competitive play and the English Premier League announced two weeks ago it would install the HawkEye system, Garber proclaimed the cost to be prohibitive.

The NFL spends about $4 million each year to cover all of its games with the equipment required for instant replay, and MLS -- with revenues a sliver of those generated by that other football league -- would have to pay much more than that to get off the ground.

FIFA announced in February that the GoalControl-4D system will be used at the 2014 World Cup. According to the AP story, GoalControl said it is likely to cost about $260,000 per stadium to install, and $3,900 per game to operate. While the company will certainly charge FIFA top dollar to use its product at a World Cup, none of the four approved systems are cheap.

Outfitting 19 stadiums at the GoalControl price would cost $4.94 million, and the bill for a full MLS season of 323 games (not including playoffs) would be $1.2597 million. The installations would be one-time costs, of course, yet the league would also be shelling out more than $1 million per year to maintain a device that would rarely be used.

Having done the math, MLS has -- to use another cliché -- decided there’s not enough bang for the buck.

“It had us take a step back and pause and try to figure out is the value of having goal-line technology worth investing millions and millions and millions of dollars for the handful of moments where it's relevant?'” Garber said. “And our view has been that we're going to wait and see how it works out. We certainly don't need to be the first league that has it.”

MLS wouldn’t be the first league in any case, since the EPL will start using GLT next August when Premier League champion Manchester United will play the FA Cup winner, either Wigan or Manchester City, in the Community Shield at Wembley. In saying MLS prefers to wait, Garber is echoing the sentiments of La Liga president Francisco Roca Perez, who said when the EPL made its announcement at SoccerEx, “We are truly advocates for technology and we will look at the systems and the cost. We are not going to be as quick as the Premier League but we are in favor of the system.

“I expect that in two or three years we will be able to do something like this either with technology that we buy or that we create ourselves.”

That last phrase is the most interesting; Perez is hinting that his league might try to develop a similar, and presumably cheaper, system and perhaps lobby FIFA to approve it. Since all MLS games are televised, Garber and the Board of Governors could do also some experimenting with a GLT system even though it couldn’t be used by game officials to rule on goal-line situations. But the price is too steep for a tinkertoy.

Hawk-Eye will be installed in the 20 stadiums to host Premier League matches in the 2013-14 season as well as Wembley, the national stadium that hosts the FA Cup semifinals and finals and most of England’s international matches. The system can’t be used for competitive European internationals unless so decreed by UEFA, and since President Michel Platini is adamantly anti-GLT and believes goal-line officials are sufficient, that won’t happen in the near future.

Promoted teams would have to install the system, and it won’t be used at lower-division facilities that host league, FA Cup, and League Cup games. FIFA has yet to clarify a policy on its use for a friendly played in a stadium equipped for GLT.

MLS has taken several innovative steps using technology. Extensive use of video review enables it to evaluate incidents and mete out punishments and suspensions, and also assess referees. If FIFA permitted leagues to develop and utilize their own systems, MLS would perhaps jump into the GLT market. But given the costs and conditions imposed by FIFA, this is no deal.

“I'm a believer in technology, and if I were a king, we would have more technology in Major League Soccer and in our game,” Garber said. “But I'm not a king, I'm a subject, and unfortunately the league can't operate outside the confines of FIFA, or we would be a rogue league. So our ability to do unique and interesting things like the other leagues in our country can do is somewhat limited.”

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