[MLS] In the second installment of an extensive interview with Don Garber, the MLS commissioner talks about the league’s presence in the
global soccer marketplace, the prospects for Montreal in 2012, and the group that has revived the Cosmos. ...
SOCCER AMERICA: The lagging state of the economy could trigger some dramatic results in the upcoming elections. Could this affect the American sports marketplace in general, and MLS in particular?
DON GARBER: I don’t the election will impact our league, per se. We operate as a business within the American economy, and anything that goes on with the American business environment is going to have an effect on all sports leagues, Major League Soccer included.
It has much more to do with the state of soccer in America and the position that Major League Soccer has in the overall sports market in the U.S. and Canada, both as it exists with the other major leagues and how it exists with the other soccer competitions. We’re very mindful of the challenges that everyone is facing, but I’m not sure that is the most meaningful impact on where we are today.
SA: You were in London earlier this month for the Leaders in Football conference, which you’ve attended in the past. How do soccer executives from other countries view MLS and its business operations?
GARBER: The overall awareness and respect for our league continues to grow. It’s probably growing faster outside the United States than it is with the soccer fan here in the U.S., which is interesting. Our league is respected by clubs and leagues and federations and confederations around the world.
Our executives are asked to speak at conferences all around the world, our system is one that is intriguing to many soccer leagues, not that they’re necessarily willing to switch their system to ours, but the approach that we’ve taken to ensure that we can make strategic decisions that can drive the overall, long-term growth of the league, as opposed to looking to short-term success.
SA: How significant are the Red Bulls and the rave reviews of their new stadium as far as foreign perspective is concerned?
GARBER: Clearly when [Thierry] Henry and [Rafael] Marquez were signed it brought our awareness even further. The success of the Red Bulls and the opening of Red Bull Arena took our credibility to even higher levels. As long as the American soccer movement continues to grow, and our league continues to expand and become more meaningful, we will have a greater opportunity to grow our fan base and our business abroad.
SA: There’s a great wave of momentum with the expansion success of Toronto, Philadelphia and Seattle; San Jose is making progress on its stadium project; and the outlook is good for Vancouver and Portland when they join up next year. Still, that’s a very rapid pace of growth, six new teams in five seasons. Why the rush for Montreal in 2012?
GARBER: I just think there’s an opportunity of we’d like to take advantage of and deliver the highest possible level of soccer to their fans. They’ve earned it and the fans have been supporting that club for many years and in many ways, that team operates like a First Division club today. I’m not sure what the benefit is of waiting. There’s no down side. The benefits far outweigh any issues. They would have liked to come in next year.
SA: When you say ‘they’ve earned it,’ can you be more specific?
GARBER: I think they’re a well-managed and very popular soccer team. When I was there I met with the Premier of Quebec. You could walk down the street and Joey Saputo was recognized by fans and non-fans alike. The team is deeply ingrained into the community. They’re going to receive a fairly smooth process of public funds to renovate that stadium, which is a lot smoother than a lot of the processes we went through with because that team is an important part of the sporting culture in the province and in the city.
SA: Do you anticipate any objection from FIFA, which every so often reminds the world it prefers leagues don’t grow beyond 18 teams?
GARBER: I don’t think so and I don’t think that’s the first thing they say about professional soccer. They’re speaking more, as it relates to us, adhering to the traditional schedule, and promotion and relegation.
SA: There’s not any action expected in those areas any time soon, I assume.
GARBER: Not any time soon.
SA: Regarding a 20th team, will anything significant happen or will the field be narrowed in the next few months?
GARBER: I don’t think anything will happen in the next few months. I’ve been consistent with you and will communicate the same to the board that our view is that it would be great for us to have that 20th team in New York and be a local rival to the Red Bulls, and we’re working hard trying to achieve that.
SA: There’s a lot of buzz coming out of the offices of the Cosmos, which are talking about joining MLS and amassing funding for a stadium. That’s a lot of noise from a team that doesn’t really exist.
GARBER: Well, I wouldn’t say that it doesn’t exist. They’re a very impressive group of guys who understand the sport and are very committed and passionate about the legacy that was left behind with the Cosmos brand, and have a view of how they can translate that legacy into something that can be very hip and relevant to today’s sports fan, whether it’s here or abroad.
That’s a unique approach and I think they’ve done a very good job with their plan but they’ve said that in order to really capture the opportunity they hope to launch it as an MLS club in New York. We’ve talked to them about that, very preliminarily, and will continue to have those discussions, but there’s really nothing more to add to that. But they’re a very impressive bunch of guys.
(Read the first installment of the Don Garber interview HERE.)
What the Commissioner omitted from this interview is his private thoughts on the "not too soon" promotion / relegation plan.
No other American sports league has the system to "weed out" sub-performing franchises and raise to up and coming entities to the top level.
If the American economy remains unsteady, this will be an important tool that solidifies the MLS in years to come.
I notice that Ridge did not ask any 'tough' questions such as whether Garber thinks that fan respect for MLS has been enhanced by MLS' active role with US Soccer in the retention of Bob Bradley? This seems more like a 'rah-rah' puff-piece written by SA to promote/market MLS rather than a serious balanced article.
Asking questions that presume facts not in evidence doesn't meet my threshhold for balance.
Stan, I take it that you would look forward to probative discovery methods being used with regard to MLS, USSF, Anschutz, Gulati, Flynn, Kraft, Leweike, etc. so that "better" evidence can emerge? Fyi, there is some evidence on this subject based on the details that have emerged as publicly disclosed by Juergen Klinsmann and Sunil Gulati on the 2006 and 2010 coaching position discussions.
No wonder MLS pays him $3 million a year. Could anybody more eloquently pave the road to the future of US club soccer with good intentions and flowery pronouncements of momentum that don't exist? Yes, Don, European owners watch with rapt awe as you pull one over on US soccer supporters. They'd love the entitlements that your owners enjoy. If they could only get away with it with their supporters.....
Stan, keep on believing that the good intentions of MLS owners outweigh the harsh realities of the domestic sports world in which their league is enmeshed. Keep ignoring all the evidence that MLS has chosen a path to club soccer future that puts quality second to the needs of their pocketbooks, and our domestic sports owners. It 'aint them you're lookin' for.
Bob Bradley's tenure seemed to have nothing at all to do with MLS's involvement in USSF (or am I missing something)? So it seems that would have been a rather leading question. From all reports I have seen, they would have gone with Klinsman as USMNT coach if only the two parties could have worked out the details regarding full control of the team. At the end of the day, US Soccer was not willing to give Klinsman the detailed control that he wanted. To say that this story was all a ruse and that Bradley was instead a shoe-in for the job because of MLS pressure would have been rather bizarre, yes? I know I would not have asked Garber such a question.
Ted, how does anything you describe here differ from the NFL, NBA, or MLB?
For better or for worse, all of these owners are in it for the money. Sports is a business, not a philanthropic enterprise which exists to fulfill the narcissistic fantasies of supporters. Sorry to pop your bubble like that.
Perhaps when (IF) MLS is 100 years old and is entrenched with fan tradition, there will be enough demand-side pressure to change the nature of the beast. But that just doesn't exist for MLS right now, so all I want for the owners to do is as follows:
(1) Be profitable (sustainable)
(2) Learn from the mistakes of the NASL
(3) Ensure all 20 MLS teams (circa 2012-2014) have soccer-specific stadiums
(4) Slowly build that beautiful game tradition based on fan experience/environment
(5) Find ways to market to, and connect with, the American sports fan (see item #4 for the way to do it).
Robert, you are missing something. SA itself did an article shortly after the Bob Bradley retention decision was announced that indicated that the "need" for an "American Coach" was based on having someone in that position that would subordinate the interests of the USMNT to the primacy of MLS's needs instead. It was a full-blown article that elicited much commentary from SA readers (40+), I'm not sure how you could have missed it. The article clearly acknowledged that MLS' interests were to be given priority at the expense of the USMNT program, there have also been articles about USSF EO Dan Flynn's fundraising prowess via MLS's separate SUM (Sports United Marketing) entity which puts together all of the highly-profitable summer friendlies with visiting high-profile UK, Mexican, Latin American and some MLS teams that show the close-linkage relationships between the 3 bodies (MLS, SUM and USSF). Then look at the substantial influence of Bob Kraft and Phil Anschutz with the USSF Board of Directors. Essentially, there was no way Bob Bradley would be rehired as coach by the USSF unless MLS consented to it. Some people like to avoid reality of these relationships by sticking their heads in the proverbial sand but the accumulating body of evidence indicates otherwise.
Correction: SUM = Soccer United Marketing. Here's a useful link that decribes SUM in summary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soccer_United_Marketing
Mr. Garber must be delusional; it's the fans that determine respect for the MLS and there are too many teams who can't coax the real futbol fan to show up. Watching athleticism in action versus quality & execution is a no brainer.
From the time I have played soccer in the 80's soccer has evolved here in the U.S.. It is really exciting to see. I can't wait to see how we do in the next World Cup. I played for my high school team and it was memorable! I played for Blau Weiss Gottchee in NYC against and with some great players. Even in my home town team of Rye we played against guys who played on the Cosmos. It is great to see soccer games in the U.S.. I was at the Galaxy vs. Red Bulls a few months ago and it was great, the cheering,the horn noises, the soccer. I think the more teams the better.
RELEGATION, RELEGATION, RELEGATION!!! This league will become boring and uneventful soon without relegation. There needs to be something at stake for the teams. There some USL teams that are better than some MLS teams and they should be given a chance to compete at the top tier, not just as feeder a league.