Tuesday, February 12, 2008

MLS boss Garber talks about Houston stadium, international players/competition and profit

MLS Commissioner Don Garber had a few things to say about just about everything in the league when he talked with the Houston Chronicle. Overall, he likes where the league is at and the direction it is heading. As far as specifics, there were not a lot, but what few there are, are very interesting.

Since the interviewer is from Houston, the Dynamo topped the conversation list with their long sought stadium deal being the major issue. All though he didn't have any new news to spread, Garber was encouraged by the city's decision to purchase land for a stadium. He did point out that the recently finished Philadelphia deal took three-years, however said they will not wait 6-7 years for a stadium in Houston.

He also said that Houston will not see a MLS Cup or All-Star Game without a stadium saying, "...we have so many stadiums coming online in so many cities, my commitment to those cities and those owners who have made great commitments to build those stadiums is to bring them our premier events." I guess DC will not be seeing another MLS Cup for a little while.

As far as a possible sale of the team slowing down stadium talks, Garber doesn't think it is true. In addition, he would like to see an ownership group made up of locals takeover the team, but it is not a necessity since a number of other teams are owned by folks not from their market.

On the non-Houston related front, Garber thinks that at some point MLS will need to reevaluate all the international competitions that currently crowd the schedule, but in the mean time these games are needed to bring in more of the 'Hispanic or Latino community.' However, one tournament the league likes but appears unwilling to jump into is the Copa Libertadores. "It would be great to compete in Libertadores. Right now our focus is to win (CONCACAF's) Champions League and make it to the FIFA Club World Cup." This seems to be the club level argument of the Gold Cup/Copa America discussion from last summer.

All this is interesting, but the biggest two pieces of information, for me at least, have to do with Garber's take on developing American players and profitability.

When asked about all the foreign players coming to MLS and how this may hurt the league's goal of growing homegrown talent, the commish said, "We can't sign a player who might not want to play in MLS or is not worth what he thinks he's worth to play here versus going to the second division in Norway, for example. We have to make business decisions that are right for our product, right for our television partners, right for our sponsors and right for our fans."

The first part is obvious, if an American doesn't want to play in MLS then he is not going to play here. The second part seems a bit, um, condescending. Seeing how a large number of players that have signed overseas in recent years are players make less then $100,000 a year in MLS, it is hard to argue that they are not worth more. A good argument can be made that MLS is a more competitive league then Norway or other second/third tier European leagues, but when it comes to money, MLS is still behind. Instead of admitting this and saying that it is something the league needs to work on in the future, Garber attacks the players. Not the classiest way to go.

But let's end on a good note. He takes down the 'money-losing business' argument so many soccer detractors use against the league perfectly by pointing out that they are still in an investment mode and pointing out how many people are looking at buying into the league. If MLS were failing, why would people put money into it. To make it a little simpler to understand, you've got to spend money to make money and we are still spending money.

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Blogger George said...

“The second part seems a bit, um, condescending.” You're too polite. Garber needs to be careful because he might be coming down with Alex Lalas Disease.

Where, in a foolishly misguided attempt to promote the league, an individual puts down another fledging league. Yeah that will sell tickets and garner world wide respect.

11:50 AM  

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