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Garber addresses pro/rel, 2026 World Cup in talk at MSBC conference

Photo by Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photo by Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

MLS commissioner Don Garber touched on many topics during his 40-minute talk at the 2016 Michigan Sports Business Conference, including some that are very near and dear to American soccer fans.

In his talk, which ranged from discussing the success of the NFL and his relationship with its commissioner Roger Goodell, to the question of implementing promotion and relegation into American soccer, Garber sought to give advice to those looking to break into the sports business industry.

On promotion and relegation in American soccer:

Sorry fans of promotion and relegation in MLS, Garber thoroughly shot down the idea. While it doesn’t rule out promotion and relegation in the longer term, it does put a damper on the prospects of a near-future implementation.

On the U.S. potentially hosting the 2026 World Cup:

While not an outright statement of an incoming bid from the U.S., the vague 10-year time-frame provides an interesting tidbit that appears to lean in that direction.  With Europe and Asia eliminated from hosting, CONCACAF has only Oceania, South America, and Africa to bid against. With South Africa having recently hosted in 2010, and the surely tantalizing option of hosting the 100th anniversary 2030 World Cup in South America where it started, 2026 seems very likely for the U.S. if they go for it.

On athletes and activism and Megan Rapinoe’s anthem protest:

Garber’s answer to this issue was guaranteed to incite anger on one side of the debate or the other. Social activists will be pleased to hear that the commissioner spends time dwelling on the issue, but may find his statement on Rapinoe less pleasing.

On the long-term goals of MLS:

While not as brash as claiming to be a top league in the next 10 years, as he’s done previously, Garber still has lofty goals for MLS. The commissioner reiterated the league’s goal of becoming a top soccer league in the world eventually, both in competition and consumerism, and wants to compete with the multi-billion dollar Premier League internationally.


  1. Pro/Rel? We beg for it while the EPL has discussed getting rid of it and Europe moves closer to a super league. Keep chasing the dream euros and ignore the fact that very few 2nd teir US teams can afford to do more than last for 1 year in MLS while playing in high school like stadia and the demoted MLS teams fade away. Excellent long term strategy. If you really just want it years down the road, maybe we can save the convo for later?

    • The league that has the largest TV-deal in all of European sports?
      The league that is watched more globally than all other European soccer leagues combined?
      The league that has more clubs within the 20 most wealthy in the world?
      The league that provides windfall money to relegated clubs exceeding what MLS makes in a single year…as an entire league?
      The league that is seen as the pinnacle of the profession and players aspire to go to?

      No serious discussion is being had about removing that element from the EPL. Additionally, the “force” pushing for a “super league” in Europe is non-other than American businessmen…that have been met with hostility and ridicule by a significant amount of European businessman, fans and leagues.

      Yes, everyone is chasing the dream of being a “big league”. It’s just too bad our league commissioner thinks reinventing the wheel will achieve it by 2022, as he claims (and will fail to do so).

  2. 1) Relegation will never work. Period
    2) MLS will never rival the large Euorpoean leagues simply because they do not have access to anything as financially lucrative as The Champions League. They simply will never be able to generate the revenue needed to be able to compete with the large clubs for the mega stars.

  3. Just give any team that paid to enter MLS1 a balloon payment equal to 150% of their expansion fee if they are relegated, or something of that nature. The Fire ownership would take that and walk away.

    • You are going to give Toronto FC $15m when the club is worth >$300m and relegation would bankrupt the club? Who is ever going to agree to that?

      Oh and the $7.5m for relegating the Fire is less than the current owners paid.

      • Well now they have an incentive to take every game seriously and not get relegated. Heck they might even take developing players seriously. Funny how that works…

      • Well now they have an incentive to take every game seriously and not get relegated. Heck they might even take developing players seriously. Funny how that works…


        To say nothing of a regular reason actually having relevance to increase interest and viewership on TV (where the money is). Too bad far too many fans are comfortable with mediocrity or may just be lying to themselves of how hollow the product is.

      • re: developing players — It very weel could work the opposite way, too. The pressure of promotion/relegation could convince them that they should only buy experienced proven players, and that playing young players would be too risky. It’s not like pro/rel on it’s own provides any incentive to produce players.

  4. cant stand the continued company line of “want to be the best in the world” without ever mentioning what they are basing it on. “competition and consumerism” is not a metric. do we trust that MLS brass actually has an idea what measuring stick to use? only then will they be able to say that they’ve succeeded if/when that happens.

    • Adam makes a good point. What makes a good league? Money, wins, world cup participants?

      Our sport has tradition in other countries that it does not have in the US. There is no historical equivalent for the MLS like Porto or Benfica winning the Champions League. But, I wonder how attendance, television revenues and franchise values compare between the MLS and the Primeira Liga – Portugal just being an example.

      • A more appropriate barometer, given the variables you’ve suggested, would likely be the league to our south in Liga MX.

        In terms of franchise “value” I believe we have a few clubs near their notable clubs, but in terms of talent, talent development and “international” success MLS is still considerably behind – shockingly so in some respects. Likely due to philosophical deficiencies by an NFL-lite commissioner.

      • OS – It surely has more to do with the number of years in existence and the overall national culture that MLS in compared to Portugal. MLS is actually doing very well considering these HUGE disadvantages, and Garber has done very well to get the league on solid footing and growing toward something potentially big.

  5. I think Pro/Rel happens due to expansion more then anything. You keep seeing markets like Cincinnati and Sacramento pulling in crowds, MLS is going to want its cut in that and an expansion fee to go along with it. So once we get to 30, then you start a 10 team MLS 2 and just have 1 up 1 down for awhile. Then you can continue to expand the MLS 2.

  6. Don Garber says, “American does not have a long-standing soccer tradition” & @MLS will not shift toward a relegation system like in Europe

    While I don’t think “relegation” makes a tradition, I can also confirm as a fan their constant yearning to be the NFL-lite doesn’t create any sense of tradition either. In fact, the league completely lacks identity, character or anything tangible as a fan to be overly passionate about.

    Sorry fans of promotion and relegation in MLS, Garber thoroughly shot down the idea. While it doesn’t rule out promotion and relegation in the longer term, it does put a damper on the prospects of a near-future implementation.

    The discussion has never realistically been to implement it now, but rather to have a reasonable conversation of implementing it within the future. The reason it’s continually brought up is due to an overwhelming amount of fans wanting it. Once the owners figure out a financial method to capitalize on that fervor we’ll see Promotion/Relegation.

    Bet on it.

    • I think you shot down a similar comment I made about promotion/relegation that I made just a couple of weeks ago? Maybe it was someone else…

      The reason people say that promotion/relegation will not happen is due to financials. However, there will be a time when the game is popular enough, and MLS/USL are stable enough that there will be an opportunity to generate a lot more revenue with the institution of promotion/relegation.

      • Not sure, don. I don’t recall the interaction but based off the rest of your post I think we’re more inclined to agree on the outcome, but I usually disagree with absolutes when it comes to people saying “It’ll never happen.”.

        I think it will, but a lot has to take place before we get to that point. One factor being Garber is no longer commissioner.

    • “The reason it’s continually brought up is due to an overwhelming amount of fans wanting it.”
      Maybe in the online world of soccer nerddom. I’ve never seen evidence of overwhelming support for pro/rel anywhere else in this country.

      • What other metric would be more pertinent to this internet website than “online” feedback? By all means, stand outside a stadium and provide us face to face polling results if you’re seeking some other medium of feedback suitable to your standards if you’re that hard-pressed to ignore the feedback that’s readily available each and every time this topic is brought up on various sites, tweets, and panel discussions/questions.

        The information is out there. If you choose to ignore it, that’s a personal decision.

        “One thing we shouldn’t do is simply write it off and not seriously discuss it. Soccer in this country is bigger than just a handful of markets that have MLS teams. In the end, soccer needs to win and perhaps we can find creative ways to give deserving markets a chance to be part of Major League Soccer.”

        -Landon Donovan

        Everyone loves to praise his honesty on topics. I suppose we should apply the same praise to his assessment of Promotion/Relegation too. Subscribing to Don Garber’s version of this hollow MLS is a whole other level of nerdom. Some of us are willing to ask the questions instead of doing what we’re told.

  7. we have no traditions so no reason to include the entire country..if you don’t like something put your head down and fall in line…we deserve the world cup cuz we have lots of money..i have no idea what makes the epl great but i think my league is going to be better..thanks don graber, anything else that the king of soccer (still the nfl’s little brother) would like to enlighten us customers on?

    • Wow you really got us. Congrats on alienating the majority of the fanbase, I’m sure it’ll do wonders for the viewership of MLS. If only soccer existed in an open market and there were other options to choose from…


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