MLS commissioner Don Garber discusses expansion, scheduling in latest State of the League address
NEW YORK – Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber on Tuesday held his annual State of the League address at Google's New York City headquarters in a live Google+ Hangout.
It marked the second time this year that Garber conducted a presentation via Google+ Hangout, becoming the first commissioner in any sport to do so in his "March to Soccer" address back in February.
Below are some of the highlights from Garber's remarks as well as from his responses to questions from media and fans. To watch the Hangout in its entirety, click here.
On Miami's expansion bid led by David Beckham:
"There’s a lot of work that needs to happen … We can’t go to Miami without the right stadium solution. David understands that. The city understands that. That’s an indisputable fact. We can’t have different rules in Miami than we have in any other city.
"We want to do as much as we can to work with David and [his business manager] Simon Fuller to get something done as quickly as we can."
On potential expansion in Atlanta:
"In Atlanta, we are making progress in our discussion with Arthur Blank and the Atlanta Falcons … We need to be in the Southeast and I think if we can continue to advance our discussions positively with Arthur and the Falcons we hope to be able to get a situation finalized."
On potential stadium technology in Atlanta's expansion bid:
"With Atlanta we have finalized a stadium situation there. We’ve been working on a downsizing technology we think will be unique and will be the only one of its kind anywhere in the world. We’ll need to continue to work hard with Atlanta to see if this whole project makes sense for them. But I’m encouraged by the discussions and hope to be able to finalize something."
On other potential expansion markets:
"There are a number of other markets that we don’t have teams in that are large swaths of the country … The Midwest is one of them which is why we’ve thrown Minneapolis out … There are a number of cities in Texas which are intriguing to us. San Antonio is one, Austin is another … St. Louis is a market that same group of soccer promoters have done a great job selling out soccer events … St. Louis could be another great market."
On criteria for other markets to become expansion teams:
"The downtown formula has been working for us and it’s hard to imagine that we would go into a market where we don’t have that scenario. … It’s not an absolute, but whether it’s Minneapolis, or St. Louis, or Austin or San Antonio. All the potential stadium sites and I say potential because we haven’t even begun to look deeply in any of those markets, all of them would be within the urban core."
On league transparency with regards to roster rules:
"In the past, we had roster rules that we put in place because we needed to have the league succeed … It just wasn’t something that was part of our DNA to open up from a transparency perspective all of the rules of the league. We’re in the process of doing that. The mechanism that got Clint Dempsey to Seattle should’ve been exposed or promoted prior to as opposed to afterwards because we weren’t trying to hide anything. I think you’ll see going forward that we’ll have more transparency in our rules."
On potential of flex scheduling:
"We’d love to be able to achieve that … It borders on being almost logistically impossible … A flex opportunity is something we’ve put in into one of those variables we’re looking at for 2015, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to achieve it."
On simultaneous matches to end the regular season:
"The answer is yes, we’re trying to figure that out. Nelson Rodriguez, who runs competition for us, is trying to figure out a way to manage that the last game of the regular season so some of our matches can all be concurrent so that you can have the ability to capture some of that drama. We haven’t figured it out yet."
On a potential schedule shift:
"We will continue to look at it. We’ve looked at it more deeply this time around than any time before. We went through fairly extensive discussions as a league to figure out if we can do this sometimes in the future. It would’ve been 2014. But it’s not something we’re going to do in the short-term."
On improving league's TV ratings:
"In order to grow your TV ratings, you have to grow your fan base first we need a partner that gives us the right schedule, the right promotion and marketing. That will allow us to have our programming be valuable and be a priority both for the broadcaster and for our fans. If we are able to achieve that, I believe our television ratings will grow.
"What we need to have is a consistent game or games of the week that run from the beginning to the end of the year as much as we can at consistent times … If we’re able to achieve that, that gets us halfway there.
"And we also need to do a better job both on our own end and also try to harness the power of our broadcaster partners to get behind a more consistent marketing schedule. I think what NBC did for the Premier League is unprecedented in the history of pro sports … If we’re able to create that same kind of scenario with a broadcast partner, I think it’ll be beneficial to us."
On development of players in college:
"We’re going to continue to support the college system every way we can, but we’re hoping that the college system can perhaps start looking at adapting a bit so we can collectively develop the American game better so that one day we can win the World Cup. If that happens it’s great for college soccer, it’s great for American soccer and it’s great for our country."
On MLS club investments in youth development:
"The MLS league-wide commitment to player development totals over 20 millions dollars a year. It’s significant … It’s about leading the development system in the United states …trying to spread as much knowledge and experience as we can so our country can be better, our national team can be better and we can win the World Cup."