[MLS SPOTLIGHT] MLS Commissioner Don Garber's annual kickoff remarks, in the form of a video Q&A session with reporters and fans, were as much about the future as they were about the present, signaling that big-money signings like those made by Toronto FC in the offseason were needed to build the league.
“Our ultimate goal is to become a league of choice,” said Garber, specifying that MLS needed to become a destination league for players to play in and fans to watch.
He evoked David Beckham -- who joined the Galaxy in 2007 and has recently exercised his option to launch at MLS club in Miami -- as the kind of player -- and celebrity -- MLS needs to grow and attract the millenial sports fan.
"There's an incredible integration between sports and entertainment," Garber said. "It just adds a little bit to our credibility and ties into that millenial sports fan idea of what's hip and what's hot."
On other topics ...
PSRA-PRO DISPUTE.Hanging over the start of the season is the ongoing labor dispute between between PRO -- which manages professional refereeing in the United States and Canada -- and PSRA -- the referees' labor representative whose members have authorized its executive board to call a strike whenever it deems it to be appropriate in relation to two grievances it had filed with the NLRB for unfair labor practices.
"We will be opening up this weekend with referees," Garber said, "and we are absolutely in position to have a contingency plan if those discussions do not end positively. Nothing is going to stop us from having a strong opening."
(Update: The Washington Post reported Tuesday afternoon that the two sides were at an impasse. Steve Taylor, the PSRA lead negotiator, told the Post's Steven Goff that management has “threatened a lockout. I expect that call later today from [PRO general manager] Peter Walton." Taylor also said PRO had conducted a training camp for potential replacement referees last weekend in Dallas and a lockout would preempt a PSRA training camp in Florida ahead of this weekend's openers.)
CBA TALKS.Talks on a new labor agreement between MLS and the MLS Players Union have not yet begun, according to Garber. "All negotiations are tough," he said. "We're mindful as are the players this will be a challenging process."
EXPANSION.Garber said the current plan is to expand to a maximum of 24 teams by 2020. Atlanta continues to be the likely pick for No. 23 -- "We're getting close," he said -- and Minnesota -- where NFL and NASL owners have separate plans -- was "on the short list."
TV NEGOTIATIONS. Negotiations are ongoing with TV broadcasters for a long-term deal to replace the television agreement with ESPN, NBC and Univision that expires at the end of this season. Garber said there was no rush to complete the negotiations but he doesn't expect the talks to drag on before an agreement is reached.