SEATTLE – MLS Commissioner Don Garber is keeping himself plenty busy on opening weekend, with Vancouver, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Jose all on his itinerary, and has attracted plenty of media attention as he makes his way down the West Coast.
At halftime of the Seattle Sounders' 1-0 loss to the Montreal Imapct, Garber spoke to the assembled media on a wide range of topics, expanding on his annual address earlier in the week. Many of the topics will likely be fresh on American soccer fans' minds, including expansion, TV ratings, the CONCACAF Champions League and the situation at Chivas USA.
Here are some of the best tidbits that came out during Garber's session with the media in Seattle:
On convincing more younger European players to come to MLS: "It’s never a matter of convincing people to come, particularly. You’ve got to work with those playesr that have interest in coming here in a time in their career that makes sense for them. Our clubs are not looking to sign older players, they’re looking to sign younger players, but it’s got to be something that makes sense for the players, where they are with their careers and what their financial capacity is."
On concerns about low attendance and general situation at Chivas USA: "We believe in a second team in Los Angeles. Originally in 2005 we came up with this concept of having a club that was connected with Mexico. It hasn’t turned out quite the way we had hoped. I have not seen a final report on what the attendance is down there, but certainly if it doesn’t grow beyond what I’ve heard their ticket sales have been, I would be concerned about that."
On the CCL as part of plan to become a top league by 2022: "I think the opportunity for an MLS team to win the Champions League in this region and go to the World Club Championship to compete against some of the best clubs in the world is an important goal. It’s something we’re pushing our clubs to be mindful of and hope that they will take that tournament – which I think is much better managed with the new leadership in CONCACAF – far more seriously than some clubs have taken it in the past."
On discussion about starting MLS earlier to give CCL teams more games under their belts: "I don’t know if we would move [the calender] just because of the Champions League schedule. This is the earliest we’ve ever started, it’s going to be the latest we'll have ever ended. The weather hasn’t been great in some of our markets. ... All of these things have to go into the pot and we’ve got to stir it around and hopefully come up with a decision that makes sense with all the things we need to be satisfied."
On importance of increasing salary cap to reach 2022 goal: "We don’t want to just have a league that is popular, we want to have a league that has a strong financial foundation, so it all has to work hand-in-hand. We want to grow our fanbase; that will lead to increased reveneues. If our revenues are able to grow, I’m confident that we will, like most leagues, end up spending more of that revenue on players."
On driving TV ratings: "It’s a matter of building your fanbase and being more relevant in the local markets, having fans that really care about their clubs, and care about where our clubs are in the MLS Cup tournament. As they’re following their team, they’re also wondering what some team that’s right below them is doing, and if that team is on national televsion, our hope is that they’ll watch them like they do in every other major league in America.
"It is about building the scale of the league and spending a lot more time on effort and marketing and promotion. The jersey launches that we did, the rivalry week we have coming up in two weeks, these are all part of trying to create more national appeal for the league as opposed to just depending on the local fanbase."
Are you satisfied with Montreal’s progress since joining the league?: "Very, very much so. I don’t think [Impact owner] Joey Saputo gets enough credit for what he’s done as a first-year team in Major League Soccer. They built a terrific building, they’ve got a good, strong brand, their team is competitive. He’s very, very focused, not just on the game, but he’s also focused on having a strong stable business and building his fanbase. One of the reasons I came to this game [Seattle-Montreal] was not just to see the 45,000-odd people, but to pay my respects to Joey Saputo."
On status of expansion: "We’re still working hard in New York City, we want to get our 20th team there. We continue to work with the city of New York, the local community and local elected officials, and potential investors. Florida has gotten a lot more attention in the last couple of months, we’re paying a bit more attention down there."
On Canada, US doing well internationally even with fewer MLS players on the roster: "We had over 20 players play in World Cup qualifying – most of these were not playing for the US national team, they were playing for other teams in CONCACAF. This is a global game, this is a country made up of people from all other countries around the world. I’m proud of what our league is able to do to grow the viability and the strength of other nations in our region."