MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

MLS Commissioner Don Garber on 30th team expansion, RSL ownership & media rights 

Ahead of Saturday's MLS Cup between the Portland Timbers and New York City FC (3 pm ET | ABC, UniMas, TSN, TVA Sports), MLS Commissioner Don Garber addressed media Tuesday in his annual State of the League Address.

During the hour long session, including an opening statement and questions from the media, a wide number of topics were discussed, including expansion, an ownership update and a new media rights deal.

Las Vegas remains expansion frontrunner

MLS continues to expand. The 2021 season had 27 teams, while Charlotte FC will become No. 28 next year. St. Louis CITY SC will follow for 2023, putting the league at 29 teams. The current plan is to expand to 30, but that 30th market is not determined. Yet.

Garber noted that Las Vegas is the favorite, in a group led by businessman Wes Edens.

“We’re making progress in Las Vegas," Garber said. "We’re excited about the market, as are all the other leagues in North America. Wes is a guy we have long-standing relationships with, he had looked at other MLS clubs over the years. We’ll continue those discussions and continue to try and get something done with our 30th team within the next 10 months.”

Vegas has seen a rise in professional sports in recent years. The National Hockey League (NHL) expanded with the Las Vegas Knights, while the National Football League's (NFL) Raiders relocated last year from Oakland to Allegiant Stadium, which hosted this year's Leagues Cup final. That venue also hosted this summer's Concacaf Nations League final between Mexico and the United States.

While Las Vegas is the frontrunner, nothing is 100% done.

“I want to point out that we’re still in discussions with other markets, both Phoenix and San Diego," Garber said. "Interest in Major League Soccer continues to grow.”

Once a market is selected, the timeline for entering the league will be determined. Garber has ruled out anything before 2023. That year is key because it's the first year of the expanded Leagues Cup between MLS and Liga MX, which was initially announced to have 48 teams. However, MLS is currently slated to have 29 and Liga MX currently has 18.

“We have not yet determined when that 30th team will start playing," Garber said. "The 30th team will not be in by 2023 [for Leagues Cup]. That’s something everybody should be aware of.”

Real Salt Lake ownership update

Real Salt Lake have been seeking new ownership since August 2020, when Dell Loy Hansen announced he would sell the team following a league investigation concerning language used by and the conduct of Hansen during his time in charge of the club.

Garber provided an update on that timeline.

"We continue to be engaged in discussions with potential owners," Garber said. "I’m hopeful we’ll be able to get something closed. We had a timetable to get that done by the end of the year, we’ll see if that’s achievable. If not, I’m hopeful we’ll get something done soon.”

In the meantime, Real Salt Lake defied the odds at the end of 2021. A dramatic stoppage-time goal on Decision Day gave them an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs berth, and they upset the Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City en route to the Western Conference Final, where they fell to Portland.

“It’s a great story for Major League Soccer," Garber said of RSL's postseason run. "By the way, commercially, their season ticket sales are up for 2022."

New media rights deal expected over next few months

MLS is in negotiations for a new media rights deal, with the current contracts ending after the 2022 season. Garber has been bullish on those talks, which he provided more details on Tuesday.

“As you know, our media rights will expire at the end of the 2022 season," Garber said. "We have been out in the market with an unprecedented package of rights that include every MLS game, whether it be local, national, international, out-of-market, linear or streaming. There will be more details to come, and I have every expectation that our new media rights agreements will be finalized during the first quarter of 2022.

"And obviously, we are in the market with the rights for the recently announced Leagues Cup, our joint venture with LIGA MX, that begins in the summer of 2023," he added.