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Scheduling, expansion hot topics in Garber’s State of the League address

Garber (Getty Images)

By AVI CREDITOR

With Major League Soccer continuing to grow, the state of the league's schedule and the future of league expansion remain trending topics in league circles.

MLS commissioner Don Garber harped on both in his State of the League address on Thursday, alluding to the the fact that the schedule will not be getting any longer despite more teams being added and that while putting a second team in New York is still a priority, the league is meeting with other cities to talk about expansion.

In terms of the schedule, MLS will be sticking with a 34-game slate in 2012, meaning that the league will shift to an unbalanced schedule with the inclusion of the expansion Montreal Impact as the 19th team.

The schedule, which Garber announced would be released as early as either mid-December or January, will reflect an emphasis on regional rivalries, something that should have a positive impact on both attendance and television ratings.

"One of our objectives is to grow the national fanbase and grow our television ratings," Garber said. "Rivalries will help be the fuel to drive that energy, and it's a big part of our strategy. People will see that rivalry focus will be a big part of the new format." 

Garber said that adding games is impractical because of the obligations MLS has to other competitions (CONCACAF Champions League, U.S. Open Cup) and also because of the travel requirements it would add to certain teams.

Vancouver, Garber said, travelled more then 60,000 miles in 2011, while some teams only travelled in the 30,000 range. 

"The more games we add, the more travel and impact it has on our players, and therefore reduces the quality of our play," Garber said. "We live here in (North America) and there are certain facts of life we have to manage to." 

Continued expansion remains a hot topic in the MLS offices, and with the New York Cosmos going through ownership turmoil and transition, their momentum seems to be waning while other groups, either in New York or elsewhere, look to emerge as contenders for the league's 20th franchise.

"People here in New York know that there are several potential ownership groups, and until we're further along in the process, we're going to speak to as many people as we can, because that's the best way to assure that we'll get an ownership group that will have the resources and be able to make the committments to be good partners in Major League Soccer," Garber said.

Garber said that the Cosmos — whose new owners will be at MLS Cup according to the commissioner — were "never a frontrunner" to become the 20th MLS team and that the main issue remains having a stadium, or plans for a stadium, in place.

"I, for one, believe that the Cosmos are a great brand, and we like the ownership group that's taken over," Garber said. "If they're able to satisfy all the things that we have as ownership requirements, then I think they could be good prospects. Right now it is very focused on a stadium and less focused on ownership." 

He added that 2013 is not guaranteed to be the year that the league expands to 20 teams, saying that, "We never targeted any date, ever. … It wasn't something that we ever talked about. We have no timetable for it."

Garber said that he had a meeting scheduled with an ownership group from Florida — not one based in Miami — on Thursday. While Garber didn't specify in which city the group was based, USL club Orlando City tweeted that it was their ownership group that had the meeting. 

The commissioner also said that he has met with prospective groups from Las Vegas and Detroit.

"This is less about pushing potential ownership groups as it is trying to work with many markets," Garber said.

Garber also touched on tinkering with the league's playoff format, saying that he would have something to announce regarding the postseason as early as MLS Cup weekend. The league's competition committee, which Garber said is comprised of Clark Hunt, Sunil Gulati, Greg Kerfoot, Adrian Hanauer, Andrew Hauptman, Todd Durbin and Nelson Rodriguez, was slated to meet Thursday for another discussion.

As for how unbalanced the conferences were in terms of results in 2011, Garber said that wouldn't be taken into consideration when determining competition rules.

"That's a factor that exists in the pro sports era in this country every year," Garber said. "It could be that five years from now that the best teams are all in the East. I don't believe that we can adjust our system for how our teams may and may not perform in a given year."

Other highlights from Garber's address included:

  • The league is looking at ways to promote attacking soccer, looking at ways to alter the discipline code and is also looking to add a scouting initiative.
  • On the topic of referees Garber said that a new approach into managing that aspect was necessary but that also, "Our officiating is a hell of a lot better than our fans give us credit for."
  • Garber continues to outwardly be upset with the D.C. United stadium situation, considering the lack of progress and the fact that United pays the highest lease out of any team that doesn't own its facility. "There is no doubt in my mind that (RFK Stadium) is a stadium that is substandard for what soccer fans are able to experience in many other markets," Garber said. "We need a solution. I've been pushing Kevin (Payne) and (United owner) Will Chang to find that solution. If that means if they can't get an improved lease in D.C. and they have to move to another place in the region, I'm supportive of that." Garber went on to say that moving the club altogether — using the old San Jose franchise as an example — is also something he would have to look at if things don't change.
  • Houston is ahead of schedule on its stadium project, but Montreal is behind schedule in its renovation of Stade Saputo. Garber said that he remains "confident" that the Impact will be able to play half of the season in its new stadium.
  • Mark Geiger was named the MLS Referee of the Year, but the league has not yet determined who will be the referee for MLS Cup.
  • Regarding David Beckham potentially returning to the league after his contract expires after MLS Cup, Garber said, "I certainly hope to see him back. I don't know that I expect him to be there."

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What do you make of Garber's remarks?

Share your thoughts below. 

Comments

  1. Dave, Ludwig field and Maryland soccerplex are nice fields, but are not next to Metro and are too small. DCU’s attendance average is at least twice the capacity of Ludwig field.

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  2. Moving to Baltimore is not a solution, because most of DCU’s fanbase is in Northern Virginia. However, Baltimore is a good sports city and should try to get its own MLS franchise. The whole exchange between DC government and DCU/MLS sounds like DCU/MLS will be content with a stadium rent reduction for a year or two. They certainly are looking at various options, which include Virginia and Maryland suburbs of DC. Baltimore is the third option at this point.

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  3. RFK is misserable for watching a game. I go a couple times a season, but have found the University of Maryland games, with their small but close the the field and full stadium, more fun for my family. I’m probably typical of many fans from whom the club could do better revenue wise.

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  4. Forget a balanced-schedule. Keep the integrity of the conferences. Like the NFL, keep the brackets separate and have a play-in game for the final spot in the weaker conference until the next team is added to the league. And give home-field to the Supporter’s Shield winner in the Final.

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  5. Forget a balanced-schedule. Keep the integrity of the conferences. Like the NFL, keep the brackets separate and have a play-in game for the final spot in the weaker conference. And give home-field to the Supporter’s Shield winner in the Final.

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  6. Commissioner Garber,
    You mentioned on FSC, that NY is getting the 20th, and final, MLS franchise. This is an interesting choice. Of course you realize that the entire southeastern part of the US doesn’t have a team to support. Obviously, you don’t care about this section of the country. If you did, you would have found a place in this part of the country to have a franchise. Atlanta has a tradition of supporting soccer. But, alas, it isn’t to be. Oh, what is that commissioner? You mentioned attendance and the two Florida franchises. Well, let’s look at those numbers:
    Year Miami Fusion Tampa Bay Mutiny
    1996 N/A 11,679
    1997 N/A 11,338
    1998 10,284 10,312
    1999 8,689 13,106
    2000 7,460 9,452
    2001 11,177 10,479
    Average 9,403 10,479
    These are figures from MLS.
    Attendance averages for 2010 teams, again from MLS, have quite a range:
    Seattle at 36,173 to San Jose’s 9,659.
    So, attendance doesn’t seem to be an issue. Especially when considering that Tampa Bay averaged more fans than San Jose or Kansas City, and was within 400 of Dallas.
    So, why are the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana being ignored? It’s hard to understand. Also, it’s a real stretch to think a fan in Alabama is really going to get behind Columbus, unless that Columbus is in Georgia.
    So are you interested in the southeast or not? It’s a simple question and the answer seems obvious based on the position you have advocated with the Cosmos.

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  7. Well, if you’re going to bring “facts” to the argument, you may want to know that you’re are talking about two different cities: KC, MO and KC, KS.

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  8. Tampa or Orlando would have been a good choice for expansion in the southeast had the FL governor not shot-down the high-speed rail project. The 2 metro areas would have been a 20-minute train ride from each other.

    If expansion to the SE is going to be limited to Atlanta and Miami then I’d rather they not expand at all.

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  9. Kansas City isn’t a good sports market? Based on what exactly? The Royals?

    The Chiefs, historically, have around the best attendances in all of the NFL. Sorry to throw facts at you but that’s the reality.

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  10. The easiest way to better the league at this juncture is to rebrand and relocate Chivas USA. The name itself is enough to alienate any fan who isn’t of hispanic descent. The kits are horrendous, they haven’t won an MLS Cup, they don’t have their own stadium, and they are an all around joke. The only problem is that their owner is making money, making this a difficult transition in that sense.

    San Diego has been begging for a club, and I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t support it. They’ll find the owners, and if they want it badly enough, they’ll fund a stadium.

    Even if they don’t relocate, please rebrand Chivas USA to something that Americans (of all descent) can relate to. Hollywood United FC, Los Angeles Aztecs (feeding into the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, Montreal Impact, San Jose Earthquakes model).

    Do something for that brand that no one likes, please. It is working in Kansas City, the Red Bulls brand is better than the MetroStars.

    Please, Don, please.

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  11. +1 to this…I’m in Columbus GA and the closest team to me would bee Houston or Columbus OH…way to go MLS…way to go…………..

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  12. A better analogy is that the Red Sox – Yankees rivalry has been cheapened by having them play 19 times in the regular season. How many “epic” series a year can we stomach?

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  13. No, why would they do that? They avg 19,000 this year, if anything name the team NJ or Metrostars and have a true rivalry with the Cosmos!!

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  14. Don’t turn MLS into a less popular version of the NBA! +1 make it the best soccer league possible.. This is the danger with allowing marketing folks run the world…

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  15. Raleigh is a strong soccer market, something that MLS needs to consider. It is also boasts a strong economy, and is growing into one of the largest cities in the southeast.

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  16. cosmos should buy the red bulls. how much is are the red bulls worth? and whats the expansion fee? then give the 20th team to miami. mls needs teams in all the “sexy” markets. MIA, LA, NY, etc.

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  17. I think Orlando is next. The owner moved the team from Austin to Orlando with clear intentions of trying to land a MLS franchise. It is going to be rough down there though without another team nearby.

    #26 population
    #19 media market

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  18. Soccer hipsters need to forget strict home & away schedules. If the league is to grow it needs good tv. good rivalry games = good tv in general. Who wants to watch RSL – NE on tv. at foxboro. forget it. now what about POR -@SEA? that looks fabulous on tv. Garber is saying that is the future of the league and I agree.

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  19. With the economy in the toilet it is a good time to buy real estate in orlando for a stadium that is for sure. A base in Florida would be good for the league in the long term. Training camps, national team, etc.

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  20. Conferences are probably the best way forward. Taking into account the Canadian teams, our league spans something comparable to the size of Europe. The longest away game in England is about a 6-7 hour drive, here it’s a flight. In time teams will probably spring up in minneapolis, miami, orlando, san diego, st louis, cleveland, las vegas, ny2, austin, etc. Two 15-team conferences that play each other home and away for 30 games each season sounds about right, then strict bracketed playoffs. With smaller 12 team conferences it’s easy to add a single game against the other conference, alternating years for home and away. Anyway, my 2 cents.

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  21. 10K?? Please, the best they did was 6800(NASL championship game), with a season average of 4000. Now Orlando on the other hand averaged 5200 with over 11k at the USLPro championship game.

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  22. That’s just not true on a bunch of levels.

    1. Cosmos (if they every exist on the field) are not going to be Real Madrid-USA (or the old Cosmos). There are no pockets that deep in MLS for that kind of team. Furthermore it would be terrible for the sport. We’ve seen what happens in baseball–where franchises pretty much concede that they can’t compete with the NY Yankees or other big pocket clubs.

    2. Yeah, Atlanta and Miami aren’t good sports markets. Guess what–neither is Kansas City. They had a decade or so of crap attendance. But build a good stadium, in the right location, with a halfway (not even great, just halfway) decent team and suddenly you’ve got fans, you’ve got a rocking stadium. KC shows that you can make it happen in almost any market with:
    –the right owners
    –a good stadium in the right location
    –an okay team

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  23. I’m torn. I agree with you totally on which fans MLS should be trying to get, but by the same token, an unbalanced or Conference-based schedule does make sense from a travel and expense standpoint. The NW teams all do over 50K miles each year. It’s expensive, tiring and counter-productive to competitive soccer.

    But in that case you must make the playoffs conference-based as well. No more of this mickey mouse crossover crap. And you have effectively destroyed the usefulness and value of the Supporter’s Shield, though I suspect it will take a few more years for MLS to admit that.

    I’m a big fan of the balanced schedule but I can also see valid reasons for not adding more games and travel to the schedule.

    And I agree that we should pander to the existing soccer fan rather than Joe American, who will NEVER understand a 2-game aggregate or that a team can be eliminated from the playoffs while winning it’s last playoff game. But the Euro fan has to also make some concessions to geographic realities. I’m pretty sure if La Liga or EPL had to spread their teams out the distances we do, they would be hard pressed to maintain a balanced schedule

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  24. Just as Mets is short for metropolitan, Cosmos is short for cosmopolitan. (Cosmos in Greek means “world” and poli means “city”, hence, a world city.)

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  25. Actually, Major League Baseball is breaking its own attendance records almost every year (or coming close). Likewise, the NHL is also very well attended and is more popular than it was pre-lockout (04-05 season). The only “major” US sports league currently down is the NBA and as you’ve maybe noticed they aren’t playing games right now.

    There is no reason to run a league in a “new” way. The top-down franchise way of setting up a league is part of American and Canadian sports culture, and we need to accept if a league is going to be run in the United States/Canada this is how it will be run. And yeah, I’d like to see promotion and relegation but there’s no quality second division currently in place. Promoted teams wouldn’t have the infrastructure to generate revenue, and the financial situation of relegated teams could cause teams to fold.

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  26. considering that the “major” US sports are all in relative decline (NFL being the exception) I would think trying to find a “new” way of doing things in the american market would be worth pursuing. Promotion and relegation cannot happen until you have a solid 20 team league and a bona fide second-tier that has competition that could hang in the MLS. once you’re there:

    best season record = MLS champs.
    bottom three teams = targeted for relegation.
    promoted teams provide an organic “expansion market” for MLS
    end of year tournament of the top five teams in the table plus bottom three. If one of the bottom three wins it all they stay up.
    keep lamar hunt midyear and CCL.

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  27. 3) Whenever the first Southeast team comes, it seems like people from other cities in the SE would support it, giving a potential Miami team strong regional support.

    4) the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers got great attendance(around 10k) in the second division this year.

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  28. the fatal flaw in your argument’s logic is the assumption that any purist anywhere is ever happy or satisfied… except in Barcalona.

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