Posted December 03, 2013

Garber touches on MLS expansion, academies, transparency and more in address

Brian Straus, Clint Dempsey, MLS, MLS Cup, MLS Expansion, MLS Playoffs, Portland Timbers, Sporting Kansas City
MLS expansion

MLS released a map detailing current clubs and potential expansion sites Tuesday.

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:

On Expansion

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.”

STRAUS: MLS expansion likely for Atlanta

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.

8 comments
Brant
Brant

Atlanta? Seriously? I get that you want a deep-pocketed owner, but there's no history of soccer success there at all. The Silverbacks sucked for years until this past spring, and the Beat, Magic, Express, and Lightning/Quicksilver/whatever have all failed. Yeah, the Chiefs won the NASL in the late '60s, with all of 4k people/game there.

The league is desperate for a "southeast" team figuring that fans from Raleigh, Charlotte, Columbia, Charleston, Jacksonville, etc will all adopt them as a regional team, but quite frankly no one outside Atlanta gives a rip what happens in Atlanta.

Go get a team in a market that's going to give a crap instead of letting Artie Blank overpay for a franchise that will be a model of failure within 5 years.

USRugger
USRugger

"We are still doing some of this stuff on the fly"

Everyone can see that quite clearly. Exhibit A: Reschedule the playoffs after they've started? Or maybe just float the idea and then recoil after everyone mocks your mismanagement.

Davos1
Davos1

The EPL seems to love NFL owners.

Alt4leto
Alt4leto

I remember attending the "Atlanta is ready for the ice age" rally for the Thrasher NHL expansion announcement.  good times!   Atlanta is ready for the pitch !

junctionjim
junctionjim

Great - another NFL owner, and another field with pointyball lines, hopefully Atlanta will be more Seattle then New England. 

Really can the league afford to have another team playing in an empty stadium on gridiron lines during playoffs and still expect to be taken seriously?

MikeDriskill
MikeDriskill

@junctionjim You see Rugby lines on the pitches in England quite often.  Is that an embarrassment?

USRugger
USRugger

@junctionjim Gillette wasn't exactly empty. We had 26,000 for the final home regular season game. But the football lines were admittedly embarrassing.