KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber met with the media during the intermission between the two rounds of Thursday’s SuperDraft.
Among the subjects discussed were the progress of another expansion team; the lack of progress on D.C. United’s stadium; and a certain other subject that I know a few of you feel very passionately about.
Here are some highlights from the conversation.
On the Montréal Impact’s progress so far:
They’re working hard, the stadium’s coming along fine. They’ve been in the office with us a lot talking about ticket sales, and their team, and ensuring that they can hit the ground running.
We have a lot of faith in Joey Saputo and his family and the new coaching staff they’ve put together. So I’m optimistic.
On Kansas City’s progress in the last year:
I walked over to [principal investor] Cliff Illig and said, "There are some special moments that even after 12 years, I still have in this job – and today was another one of them."
It was not that long ago when we were really wondering what we needed to do to get this market excited. You look at the Cauldron carrying on and creating that atmosphere for ESPN and everybody else, and it’s just really special. I’m very excited and proud of it.
On whether promotion and relegation are on the table for MLS:
No. No. Definitely not. I’d say, listen, at some point in the league’s future – that point could be 50 years from now or 75 years from now – I do believe that we will be structured similar to the other leagues around the world. But that is a lifetime away for us.
We’re entering our 17th year and the other leagues in this country have been here for 100. And those guys who are running those leagues are looking at where they are today - they’re not really looking at where they were in the 1920s.
So that was just a comment about what I think this could look like. We are still very committed to our goal of being one of the top leagues in the world.
We’ve got to really focus on our player quality; on our fan passion, like what we’ve had here in Kansas City; the relevance of our clubs – a lot of that’s marketing-oriented, and we’ve made new efforts there; and then the last is to ensure that we do it right financially.
There are a lot of great leagues that are really upside-down as it relates to economics, and we want to have all four of those things. I believe we’ll get there. It will take time, but we’ll get there.
On the window for adding a 20th team to Major League Soccer, specifically in New York:
There really isn’t a specific window, other than we want to make it happen. The Red Bulls are pushing the effort – they believe that having a rival and a focused effort in New York will allow them to capture more of the attention of the 13 million people in that city.
It’s a very ethnically diverse community, and they’re doing a good job, but they’re not breaking through enough. They think that rivalry will help. We’d like to have another team to capture the media market in that city. So we’re going to work on it.
We’re nowehere further than we were the last time I spoke to you guys. We’re very, very focused on stadium plans. We have a meeting with the mayor’s office next week, and we’re going to try to make some progress on that facility.
On whether the uncertainty of the timeline for a 20th team affects the league’s ability to set up the fixture list:
Not at all. What makes it difficult is annually figuring out what our format is going to be. We’ve got to get to a point where we settle on a format that we’re committed to, and that works. [One] that satisfies our attendance goals and our television ratings goals, deals with the changes that are going on at FIFA in terms of qualifying dates and international windows.
I was just at FIFA the other day and they’re talking about changing that again. We just get stuff thrown on our lap and we have to respond to it because we don’t align yet with the international calendar.
On the risks and rewards of players going to European clubs on short-term loans during the offseason:
There are benefits and there are risks. Omar [Gonzalez] was a huge risk, and [his injury] is really devastating. I like him a lot. He’s done a lot for the league and I think he’s a terrific young guy. It certainly isn’t good for the L.A. Galaxy.
But people are looking to fill their time, and they’re getting pressure from external forces to go out and have a shorter offseason. That pressure is kind of getting some momentum for these short-term loans.
A positive example of that is [Thierry] Henry scoring a goal [in his first game back at Arsenal]. That was a shot heard around the world, and everybody thought that was great. Landon [Donovan] has been saying some very good things about his experience [at Everton].
But certainly seeing what happened with Omar was not positive.
On how he can protect the league from the consequences of a loan going badly:
You can protect it by not doing it. That’s the only way.
On how much time D.C. United has to get its stadium situation resolved before he says he’s had enough:
We met with Kevin Payne last night for a couple hours. I think Kevin is working hard to find a solution there. It is very frustrating. I think he’s beginning to make some progress with the city council with the mayor.
There has been all sorts of challenges with local politicians who no longer will be free men*, and that just makes the dynamic of negotiating that much more difficult.
[A serving City Council member in D.C. resigned from office last week after pleading guilty to felony charges of embezzling more than $350,000 in public funds.]
We’ve got to get a solution. I’ve said it many times before. If we can’t, we’re going to have to get another solution, and that solution might not be in Washington, D.C.
On how the D.C. stadium negotiations compare to past stadium deals:
We had a stadium project in New Jersey [Red Bull Arena] where the governor resigned in the middle of the negotiations. I can’t even begin to tell you. It’s a great book. This is on the list, but it’s not even near the top of the list, frankly.
On how MLS can improve its national TV ratings with the new NBC deal, especially in light of the strong ratings English Premier League games have received on Fox channels and ESPN:
I was at the Golden Ball event in Zurich the other night, and the average salary of their Best XI was 15 million euros. So it’s understandable that fans are going to be attracted to watching Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid. That’s something that we’ve got to manage.
But they can’t have, for example, what we have in Kansas City. In order to be a true fan, you’ve got to go in and wear the colors, paint your face, and be part of the passion and celebration of being a soccer fan.
At the end of the day, we’re going to just try to continue to get better. NBC has a lengthy deal with us. I think they’ll get it right. But I don’t really look at other television ratings as much as I do our own.