NEW YORK — The 2013 MLS season got off to an historic digital start on Wednesday.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber became the first commissioner of a major sports league to address media and fans via a live Google+ Hangout, which was held at Google's New York City office.
He used the forum to reiterate the mission of Major League Soccer to become one of the best leagues in the world with specific initiatives targeting the quality of play and growing the fan base, which already has the league as "the seventh-highest attended professional soccer league in the entire world."
Among the news items to emerge from Wednesday's Google+ Hangout:
NYC2: Garber said that the league remains in "productive discussions" with the city and state of New York on a new stadium in Flushing Meadows, but that there was still "a lot of work to do."
"We need to get this done within a reasonable time period," Garber said, while indicating he was "confident" a deal with a potential owners could be finalized "relatively soon."
Expansion: Cities Garber mentioned by name during the Hangout included Orlando, Miami, Minneapolis and Atlanta. He said league executives "remain in discussions" with those markets.
Orlando City stadium movement: News about a potential downtown stadium project has reached the MLS offices with Garber commenting that "if they're able to achieve that, it makes them an even more viable candidate than they are today."
MLS player transfers: If it were up to Garber, MLS would "never sell a player" and he wanted former FC Dallas winger Brek Shea to stay in MLS. But he said he accepts that transfers are part of the soccer industry and the league "does get involved" in those transactions: "We'd never stand in the way definitely, but we have an opinion," he said.
Cascadia Cup trademark: The Commissioner was clear that the league "didn't go about this process right," but that he was hopeful discussions with the Cascadia Cup Council would help "reach an agreement that everybody will be happy with and that will take some of the heat off of this issue, satisfy some of our concerns but at the same time honor and provide some reverence and some support for that great trophy and that terrific tournament."
Referees: The Commissioner indicated that the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) will be employing nine full-time MLS referees for 2013 compared to the three in years past. They will be "thinking about professional refereeing in MLS and nothing else.”
Discipline crackdown: Something to keep an eye on when it comes to disciplinary proceedings in 2013 — MLS will be paying "a lot more attention on sideline behavior. We're going to place a lot more attention on surrounding the referee."
French Federation partnership: In their search for a coaching relationship to provide training for MLS academy coaches, the league was immediately impressed by the French federation: "We think the French system is the best at teaching teachers."
Increasing television ratings: Garber believes that to build a broad national fan base "it takes time to achieve that." But he recognizes that ratings are a factor of players "that attract your attention" and he looks forward to new TV deals (after the 2014 season) that "perhaps will give us more promotion and perhaps give us a schedule that works a bit better for us and our fans."
League scheduling challenges: The Commissioner conceded that MLS plays its matches "in the most competitive part of the American and Canadian broadcast calendar" and that "over time, that might be something we might have to take a look at changing."
The National Hockey League model: Garber praised what the NHL has been able to achieve, saying "that model is actually one we hope to be able to follow."
Landon Donovan's hiatus: Garber said he was "supportive" and "very sympathetic" to Donovan's desire to take a break from the sport before returning to the Galaxy at the end of March.
"This young guy has been holding the responsibility as the leader of the sport on the field since he was 15, 16 years old," he said. "None of us have had to do what Landon has had to do. … Think about it. It’s unprecedented for a single athlete in a professional sport."
New York Cosmos: The Commissioner was clear that questions about the Cosmos' ambitions should be directed at them and that he has "not had active discussions with them recently."
"They had a choice to make: Do they want to vie for a New York City MLS team or do they want to go to the second division? They decided to go into the second division and we support that and continue to support the NASL and the USL."