MLS commissioner Don Garber: State of the league addresses Crew, Miami, expansion and World Cup failure

Each year, MLS Cup is an opportunity for MLS commissioner Don Garber to present his state of the league.

In 2017, he could tick off successes with new teams, new attendance records and increased television ratings, up from tiny numbers but increases nonetheless in contrast to the trend of declining sports ratings.

But 2017 was also the shattering of the relationship between MLS and fans in Columbus as the Crew's owner, Precourt Sports Ventures, explores a move to Austin.

Issues in Miami remain unresolved, casting doubt whether an MLS team will ever move back into South Florida.

And the failure of the USA to qualify for the 2018 World Cup is a huge blow for MLS, costing its marketing partner, SUM, millions of dollars, and the league an opportunity to sell soccer and itself to the millions of casual soccer fans who tune in every four years.



Here is what he had to say ...

Precourt Sports Ventures is on parallel paths.' Garber said it's not the league's decision whether the Crew stays in Columbus or moves to Austin, but he reiterated support for Precourt Sports Venture's right to explore its options in Austin along "parallel paths" with any discussions in Columbus.

"Like every professional sports league, we never want to relocate a team," Garber said. "And while no decision has been made to relocate the Crew, MLS is supportive of the Precourt Sports Venture's efforts to explore their options in Austin."

There has been talk between Precourt Sports Venture, MLS and Columbus city and business leaders.

"The mayor and city leaders have said to us," Garber said, "they will only engage in those discussions if the club's ownership discontinues any ongoing discussions in the city of Austin and that's just not possible at this point. So the ball is in the city's court."

Crew has been 'struggling to resonate.' Garber said the Hunt Sports Group spent $200 million during its 18 seasons in Columbus, and Precourt Sports Venture has spent $40 million since Anthony Precourt bought the team in 2013. Garber said the Hunts had sought out a local owner as early as 2008 and never found one. (Precourt lives in San Francisco.)

Garber said an underperforming market, where the Crew has been "struggling to resonate" since the start, was at the heart of the problem.

"It is among the lowest teams, 20 out of 22, in every measure that matters in pro sports," he said. "Average ticket price, average attendance, average revenue, their local television ratings, their local television deal, every aspect that is going to determine whether a team can be viable. As our league continues to move in the right direction, we need to have strong clubs. There's a lot that needs to happen to address those situations."



Miami is 'most complicated situation.' It's been almost four years since Garber introduced David Beckham as the owner of the team MLS hoped to have in Miami. Garber said the league remains committed to Miami, even after Miami Beckham United has made proposals at four sites around Miami to build a stadium and still has not closed the deal.

Garber termed Beckham's pursuit of a stadium "the most complicated situation in any market that we've experienced," complicated, he said, because of the hot real-estate market and authority of multiple municipal bodies in a difficult political environment.

Todd Boehly, who is part of the Los Angeles Dodgers ownership group, had been introduced as the Miami majority owner this summer when Garber said a final deal could be announced by the end of the summer.  What Garber added on Friday is that even if the stadium picture is clearer -- a 25,000-seat stadium in the Overtown neighborhood -- the Beckham group must find a local owner for the deal to go forward.

"I continue to say that we want Miami in the league," he said. "It's a large market, a gateway city. There are a lot of values to us having a team down there and I'm very confident that we will get something done."

Expansion lineup change is 'conceivable.' Miami was slated to enter MLS with LAFC in 2018 as recently as 2016. Without Miami, MLS will play with 23 teams in 2018, complicating scheduling each week with an odd number of teams.

MLS's board of governors will get an update on expansion from the league's expansion committee on Thursday in New York and is expected to vote on two teams slated to join the league in 2020.

Asked whether one of four finalists -- Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento -- could move ahead of Miami in the expansion order and begin play in 2019 -- Garber for the first time said it was "conceivable."

World Cup failure 'has us all taking a step back.' Garber said the USA's failure to qualify for the World Cup in Russia could produce necessary and positive changes.

“This process, which has been traumatic to the system, has us all taking a step back,” Garber said. “When you have things that set you back, it allows strong people to work within, reach outside your own insular group and try to get better, so it doesn’t happen again. After the initial challenge here, I actually think this is going to be a positive -- at least on the men’s side -- for U.S. soccer and ultimately even for the league."

2 comments about "MLS commissioner Don Garber: State of the league addresses Crew, Miami, expansion and World Cup failure".
  1. R2 Dad, December 9, 2017 at 12:03 a.m.

    " ....20 out of 22, in every measure that matters in pro sports TO OWNERS," he said. FIFY.

    "Average ticket price, average attendance, average revenue, their local television ratings, their local television deal, every aspect that is going to determine whether a team can be viable. "

    Of course, since he doesn't represent fans and didn't ask fans what's important to them, I will list it here: style of play/attractiveness of playing style, and record/table position. Since MLS doesn't care about either of these, and Garber doesn't really care about the sports aspect of the game, I'm not surprised it's not on his radar.

  2. I w Nowozeniuk, December 9, 2017 at 1:29 p.m.

    Well said R2Dad...Garber has his own agenda for the game. 

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