By DAN KARELL
Speaking to fans and journalists across the nation on Tuesday from the Google offices in New York City, Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber touched on a number of topics, including expansion, a change to a winter schedule, and more.
But arguably the most surprising comments came from a question on transparency in MLS. The league took some criticism this season for new rules coming to light only through reports from journalists or press releases from teams after a player signing had occurred. While Garber promised that the league would do more in terms of transparency in the future, he said that at the league’s current stage, it’s better for the league to be flexible rather than rigid.
“What I will say is that as an emerging league, there are times when we are figuring out those rules as we go along,” said Garber. “I don’t know if the Clint Dempsey case is an example of that, but there could be something that comes up where we say, this is something that we need to figure out now, because we will lose this player or we won’t be able to sign this player, or it will prevent us from being competitive in an international competition, whatever it might be. That means, as an emerging league that we’ve got to have the ability to be flexible and evolve.”
Garber said that many of the original rules in place were to keep teams from having a competitive advantage over one another and in the league’s early years, it “wasn’t in their DNA” to be open about all of the rules. But Garber also stressed that there wasn’t any kind of evil plan to keep the rules away from the fans and supporters of the league.
“There’s no insidious plan, there’s no desire to hide behind any artificial system,” Garber said. “There will be more transparency going forward, but we have to accept, (and) I ask our fans to accept, that at 18 years old, we are still evolving and we are still doing some of this stuff on the fly.”
One of the biggest issues facing MLS in the coming year is the future of the league’s national television deals. MLS has deals currently with ESPN, NBC Sports, and Univision in America and TSN/RDS in Canada but each of their deals end at the end of the 2014 season. The league’s ratings have fallen this year and suffered without a big event like the World Cup or European Championship to capitalize from.
Garber seemed to want to move in a new direction in terms of television partners, as current partner NBC Sports is reportedly paying at least $80 million for the rights to the English Premier League and has put much of their resources towards that competition instead of MLS.
“We’ve got to find a way to have a partner that gives us the right schedule, that gives us the right promotion and marketing, that is embracing us in ways that will allow us to have our programming be valuable and be a priority both for the broadcaster and the fans,” Garber said. “If we are able to achieve that, I believe our television ratings will grow.”
The Commissioner also admitted that flex scheduling is something that is being looked at in the future, and while it won’t be in effect in 2014, it could enter the schedule in 2015. It could fix some late season situations that have teams out of the playoff race off national television while teams fighting for a spot are stuck on regional or local television only.
Another of this season’s talking points surrounded a potential switch to move to a winter schedule, aligning MLS with the top leagues in Europe. Garber admitted that the league did have conversations about what he prefers to call a “potential calendar shift” but that there is still a long way to go before anything changes from the current schedule.
Garber outlined one of the main issues to be a ten to 12 week break from late December through late February or early March, as well as not wanting to play games in Northern United States and Canadian cities in the winter. This Saturday’s MLS Cup final in Kansas City is expected to be one of the coldest in history with a projected high temperature of 26F.
“It’s not just about ‘are we going to play three more games in cold weather markets at an earlier time of the year’,” said Garber. “It’s about what do we do with an extended break because I don’t care what market it is, we’re not playing in February and January in places like Toronto, Vancouver and places like that. That’s where the rub is. We have not been able to figure out a way to solve the break, and also figure out a way to justify moving those games out of the very valuable May and June time period into February and the end of December.
“We will continue to look at it, we looked at it more deeply this time around than any time before. We went through some fairly extensive discussions as a league to figure out if we could do this some time in the future, (not for 2014), but that’s not something that we’re going to do in the short-term.”
Finally, during Garber’s address, the Commissioner revealed that the league invests $20 million in their academy system each year. When asked to delve further, Garber said that he believes it’s the league’s priority to work with the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) to develop the league’s next superstars.
“I think we win on and off the field if we’re developing better players. There is a question as to ‘is it the right amount of investment and when does that pay off’. Jozy Altidore was sold by the Red Bulls for $10 million, so for one and two players it does make economic sense. We’re not in the business (as you well know) of developing players to sell them.
“We want those young kids, (like New England Revolution midfielder Diego) Fagundez, to be on MLS 36 on NBC, having a kid dream to try to be that guy, and in order for that to happen it has to be on ESPN or Univision on American television or Canadian television if there was an analogous situation up in Toronto.
“I believe it makes sense, we’ve got to find a way that the economics (can) start delivering sooner as opposed to later, and I absolutely view it as our role to be a leader in this area. If we don’t do it, who will.”
We are a feeder league. People wake up the world is a feeder league to Europe. Neymar was considered one of the worlds best but he had to go to Europe to prove it. The real question is not whether we are. Feeder league because we are but are we a retirement league. Well perception seems to indicate we are look at every trade window. Every old player wants to end it here. Have we changed that in mls. Well the timbers have, RSL has, and there are others but I don’t think this is the plan for mls. Just think of the new expansion clubs they want to bring old players. Think Orlando and kaka Miami coming in just cause of beckham who will bring in old players report linking to ronaldihno nycfc well u get the idea!!!!!
This league is not growing. And with expansion the product will suffer. This was probably a better season. Having achieved a better product I wonder if fans are willing to deal with a downgrade. How will the league deal with expansion teams that with certainty Downgrade the overall product? The mls strategy for addressing expansion is simply unknown
I like that he says we are not looking to be a feeder league. Americans really will not put up with that in numbers.
It is one thing to be small and not a lot of money like MLS sort of is…..it is another to want to stay there. MLS definitley does not want to stay second fiddle.
There is somedifference between what you say and what you do. Even if he says he doesn’t want MLS to be a feeder league he clearly signalize that by letting Man City have theri feeder/reserve team entering the league…
Is anyone else troubled by Garber’s admission that MLS makes up player acquisition and roster rules as it goes along? So on top of a convoluted and near-arbitrary set of rules, we have Garber’s concession that the league does things on the fly. Is it really a good situation when none of your fans has the vaguest idea of why players end up where they do? Talk about putting expediency over intergrity!
“What I will say is that as an emerging league, there are times when we are figuring out those rules as we go along,” said Garber. “(..) being competitive in an international competition, whatever it might be.(..).”
Well if Garber want the MLS to be competetive in an international competition then the first rule is to make sure you get the best brands into the league, the second is not to put a Feeder/reserve team of a European club into your league.
Though it is a good thing Garber is honest, he still struggles to see the things in the long term… NYCFC probably gave him a lot of money in entrance fee, but in the long run half the entrance fee for Cosmos would have given much more interest and a bigger revenue in the future.
I get emails from Red Bulls for every home game to buy tickets. The league should get email lists from each team and send out emails of the weekend television games. Remind fans when the games are on. The media won’t do it so MLS needs to do it.
MLS is missing the great potential for creating a dominant position for soccer in this country by ignoring the youth programs throughout the country. The Academy teams are great but in most cases they are inaccessible to incredibly talented players living too far away from metropolitan areas where the teams are located.
More children in this country play recreational soccer than any other sport but MLS ignores the opportunity to affiliate with programs throughout the country. MLS has the advantage over the football, baseball, and basket ball by already having youth programs like training programs and the Academies. Why not connect with leagues at the base level (recreational and travel programs) to instill not just brand awareness but a more cohesive youth program in this country? Once you stoke passion and loyalty in the kids, then demand will only grow stronger as they will want to go to games and see their teams play.
another big issue I see as well is they lack penetration with Univision. Univision and Unimas have games on saturday afternoons during the best time slots youd think after 18 years of being exclusively on Univision stations MLS could get one or two games during the time slots. But no 2 pm et on Saturday when a whole butload of folks in the latino community are out playing soccer, or getting things done. MLS needs to fight for a 6pm time slot on these channels be it on Unimas or Univision if not take their business to NBC and telemundo. id like to see two games a week on Univision A Saturday evening game and a Sunday midafternoon game as well.
It’s fair that you want univision in the MLS mix. Fact of the matter is that the only way Univision would throw money at MLS is if the Latino population in the US would stop being so nationalistic with their home countries. I’m talking about Mexicans, Salvadorians, etc who live in the US for decades yet still bleed their native country’s colors. As a Latino myself, I really get fed up with how Univision segregates the US culture and with that American soccer.
In other words, Univision is a big piece of crap. They should move their headquarters to Mexico City already.
MLS should go with Telemundo. Andres Cantor is one if not the best soccer commentator.
They have twice, I think due to the ratings Telemundo quit.
Your post has code words for racist. Univision buys mx because it is a great deal cheap and high ratings. While Mexicans may be nationalistic but I don’t think this is the reason for their interest in their league. Face it the mls product is not that good. Mexicans in Mexico watch mx but will switch to champions league . As do Mexicans in the US. They switch not out of allegiance to Europe but for better product. Please note that while u may have Latino friends ur comment is questionable at best and is no better than coded messages like welfare queens Mondays and other racist rhetoric which appears to be harmless but is just questionable.
I like Garber’s honesty. No need to BS
I’m with you. He gave honest answers. Frankly, the guy has done a fantastic job. There is still a long way to go, but I don’t think we’d still have a league or be so well positioned for growth without him. A few people crying about relugations should actually stop and acknowledge what has actually been accomplished.
NBCsn paid a lot more than 80m for the EPL rights. It was a multi-year deal worth more than $250m US. And the amount is chump change compared to other established sports leagues in the US. Even NCAA and big Universities get deals worth 10-15x more than any current MLS rights deal. If the MLS wants to be a “playa” and be a big-time soccer league , it has to make a case for a larger increase in TV rights. The MLS should be bargaining in the US $100-200m plus range. The EPL reportedly gets Billions over several years from British TV and sponsors like Barclays, Hell, Man U will get more from Chevrolet for their SHIRT SPONSOR than whole MLS gets for the current an probably future TV rights.The Spanish La Liga also gets Billions. Of course these amounts are for the “only sport in town” which what soccer is in most Euro and SA countries. They do not have to compete for the TV and marketing dollar like the MLS has to here.
It is only in the US where we have such huge Pro Leagues for various sports, who are well-established and well financed.
MLS is a minnow in a big sports pond in America, and moving against Sports Giants to compete against them in a UEFA inspired attempt to emulate the timing of their season is wrong and the MLS would commit certain suicide should they adopt it.
Problem with MLS asking for 100m-200m dollar TV deals is that their ratings are not high. So they lose a lot of leverage.
digital viewership has to be pretty substancial. im surprised they aren’t selling their digital rights separately. Not all of us have cable. im subscribe to MLS live and watch games on my roku. I know of folks watching all their games through rojadirecta.me the tipping point is coming sports are the last frontier when it comes to online viewing id gladly pay 100 dollars a season if MLS can get me all the games on MLS live and not have to deal with blackout restrictions.
Seems like I remember a pre-season deal from the MLS website for right around that amount to view the entire season for all teams. The games have been all available on line for a fee.
“I don’t know if the Clint Dempsey case is an example of that…”
What a farce.