FanPost

In Defense of Don Garber

While it’s easy to identify a long list of things that could have been done differently by MLS, it’s important to look at how the league has changed since Garber took the helm in 1999. The critics mostly bemoan the differences in how the league is run compared to other leagues around the world and the lack of transparency in the rules of player acquisition. But it’s essential to remember that prior to MLS, there was a long history of failed soccer leagues in this country while the leagues with which we compare MLS have long prospered. In his role to grow the game nationwide in a way that protects the long term stability of the league, Garber has been extremely successful.

Expansion into new markets is a key indicator of the successful growth of the game nationwide. Since 1999, there have been 9 new teams added to the league, 2 contractions and 1 relocation. The successful expansion selections of Salt Lake, Toronto, San Jose, Seattle, Philadelphia, Vancouver, Portland and Montreal offset the mistake that was Chivas USA. The contraction of Miami and Tampa Bay were sound financial decisions to protect the future of the league. The relocation of San Jose to Houston also worked out well for the league, with a solid attendance record on par with league averages. The geographical diversification of the league has improved greatly over that time, showing the strong support of the sport nationwide. Map_medium

Since 1999, the average league attendance has increased 30% and total attendance has increased 119%. The graph below shows the consistent growth in league average and a large spike in total gate corresponding to the recent expansions. The consistent growth of the league in markets nationwide is a great indication of the success of the league’s business model, with local ownership and soccer specific stadiums.

Graph_medium

The MLS TV contract with ESPN/ABC from 1996-1998 provided the league with no rights fees and a total of 36 games on TV per year across the networks. In 2006, a new deal which provided $8million a year in rights, MLS game of the week on ESPN, draft coverage and online coverage via ESPN360. From 2003 to 2011, Fox Soccer provided coverage in addition to primary deal with ESPN. Starting in 2012, NBC has broadcast approximately 50 games per season. With the 2014 season the last in the current TV deals, the league is already negotiating for an expanded deal to start in 2015. Based on the vast increase in ratings (NBC had a 122% increase in rating relative to Fox Soccer), the league is in a good position to solidify its financial future.

The international view of American soccer has also improved greatly under Garber’s reign. There may be no better evidence of this fact than the increase in the caliber of internation players the league is able to sign. With return of USMNT players to the league at the prime of their career, including Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley (unless that’s just another cruel jape at the expense of the TFC fans). It’s clear that players, both American and foreign, no longer view MLS as a place they cannot afford to go at the prime of their career.

I’m not trying to tell you that Garber is responsible for all of this, but as the league commissioner throughout this era he should be given credit for these successes. There are plenty of reasons to gripe about the man and the league, but I for one am thankful for the changes he’s made to improve soccer in America.

FanPosts only represent the opinions of the poster, not of Sounder at Heart.

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