Garber touches on MLS expansion, academies, transparency and more in address
MLS commissioner Don Garber touched on expansion, the league calendar, TV ratings, player development and other intriguing topics during Tuesday’s comprehensive “State of the League” address and news conference in New York City. Here are a few highlights:
Garber reiterated MLS’ goal to field 24 clubs by 2020 and said the league’s commitment to the Southeast U.S., which began this month with the announcement that Orlando City would join in 2015, could continue with David Beckham in Miami and Falcons owner Arthur Blank in Atlanta.
“We need to expand strategically. We’ve got a big chunk of the country where we’re not covered. That’s the Southeast. And we hope to be able to achieve that with Atlanta and Miami … We have a lot of work to do.”
Beckham and TV producer Simon Fuller are in active discussions with Miami authorities regarding a stadium site. They’re also searching for an investor. Beckham has an option to buy a franchise for $25 million, but he’ll need a lot more than that to build a facility. Bolivian telecommunications billionaire Marcelo Claure is considered to be Beckham’s most likely partner.
Garber said the Miami market has changed significantly since MLS folded the Miami Fusion prior to the 2002 season and that the league is “very excited about the opportunity of “David putting together an ownership group and finalizing a stadium site in downtown Miami.” The commissioner said there will be no team “without the right stadium solution” and that there is no plan to review a proposal at Friday’s board of governor’s meeting in Kansas City.
Garber sidestepped a question regarding the Dec. 31 expiration of Beckham’s option agreement with the league, saying only that the parties are working to get something done “as quickly as we can.”
MLS is “making progress” with Blank, Garber said. Blank intends to field a team inside the new NFL stadium scheduled to be completed in 2017 and recently has been “been to a number of [MLS] events, very quietly.”
During Garber’s address, the league displayed a map that also listed Minneapolis, St. Louis and San Antonio as “possible MLS expansion” sites. Garber joked that he hadn’t seen the graphic before taking the stage, then said that there are a number of cities in the Midwest and Texas (he also named Austin), that are “intriguing.”
Regarding a timeline for Atlanta and Miami, Garber warned that there’s plenty of work to be done in both markets. “You think you’re at the finish line and then the finish line moves,” he said.
On the league calendar:
Saturday’s MLS Cup final between host Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake stands to be the coldest ever. It’s one thing to sell out a championship game played in freezing temperatures. It’s quite another to market a frigid regular season match, and that remains a stumbling block for MLS as it continues to explore aligning its calendar with the rest of the world.
“Frankly, we don’t think we’re ready for that yet,” Garber said.
He did reveal, however, that the league examined the switch to a fall-to-spring season more closely in 2013 than ever before. Whether its to align with the vast majority of the leagues in Europe, which crown their champions in May, or to shift the MLS Cup playoffs away from one of the most crowded portions of the North American sports calendar, there are arguments to be made for a switch.
Garber said the stumbling block was a 10-12 week break MLS would have to take from the middle of December to around the end of February.
“I don’t care what market it is, we’re not playing in February and January,” he said. “We haven’t been able to solve the break and also figure out a way to justify moving those games out of that very valuable May and June time period into February and December. We will continue to look at it … but that’s not something we’re going to do in the short term.”
Separately, Garber said the league remains “very committed” to staging the MLS Cup final at the stadium of the participant with the best regular season record. Saturday’s game will be the second played under the new format. The title match was hosted by the L.A. Galaxy last year.