The annual MLS State of the League audio conference, held prior to the MLS Cup, is usually good for some news and gossip from the MLS league office. This year’s conference was no different, as The Commish touched on the hot topics of expansion and relocation, as well as more nuts and bolts like life with 19 teams.
As if the identity of the 20th MLS franchise had not been all but known, Garber made it clear the Cosmos would likely be coming back if MLS could find a place for them to play. “The issue remains the soccer stadium,” he said on the call. “We do believe we have two or three sites that are viable, and we’re going to continue to work as hard as we can to move this as fast as we can.’’ MLS has hired architects and land-use consultants to help build a soccer stadium in New York. But in terms of owners, he’s a little less concerned. He noted the league has not spoken with the Wilpons “lately” but plan to re-engage with them once their issues have been sorted out.
But before fans dust off their Cosmos gear to use again, Garber noted that neither the name or location is a done deal. Garber will meet with the new Cosmos’ ownership group at MLS Cup but said they are keeping all ownership options open. He also said that the league has met with ownership groups in Detroit, Orlando, and Las Vegas to explore options and locations for their 20th and future teams.
In terms of relocation, Garber further advanced the notion the United’s days in DC are dwindling. He noted that the financials for the team were damaging (Events DC owns RFK and because of this DCU ownership claims they’ve lost millions on the deal) and that moving them is not out of the question:
“We have to aggressively figure a solution out, and that solution needs to be figured out soon. I am concerned about where this team will be in 2012. They’ve been operating without a new lease. They’ve been in discussions on a lease to try to improve their terms. I’m shocked to say they could be paying more for their lease in RFK than any other team we have in the league. There is no doubt in my mind that it’s a stadium that is substandard to what soccer fans are able to experience in many other markets.”
Garber noted that he would support a move to Baltimore or, if that fell through, to an entirely new market altogether. He even went as low as to mention the RFK raccoon, a critter that DCU scribes have seen running around the stadium as a symbol of the team’s poor facilities.
As for next season, the league will be moving to an unbalanced 34-game schedule but revealed few details other than that. The league is also considering doing away with neutral-site MLS Cup matches and instead moving it to the home stadium of the Supporter’s Shield winner. Of course this year LA is playing at their home stadium but the league has experienced two teams playing at a less than full neutral site as recently as 2010 in Toronto.
Maybe the most interesting topic was his vision for the next ten years of MLS. Noting the success of the league in merchandise sales (up 35% this year), attendance (7% to an average of over 17,000 a game, although with two new teams), and TV viewership (16% on ESPN networks, 26% on FSC, 10% on Telefutura), Garber stated that by 2022 he wants MLS to be one of the top leagues…. in the US? No, in the world.
“At the end of the day, we want to be one of the top soccer leagues in the world. And we want to try to achieve that by 2022. We want to the league of choice, the league of choice for players, for sponsors, for fans.”
Now as a league commissioner you have to talk the talk and set high goals for your league. But one of the top leagues in the world? Really? Maybe he should aim to have passed the NHL by that time period instead of trying to nudge aside Serie A. I admire the gusto but that goal may be way way too high.
But what do you think about the State of the League address? Is Garber crazy or spot on, on any of these topics?