Transcript: State of the League Address
On Tuesday, Nov. 16, MLS Commissioner Don Garber addressed media in his annual State of the League teleconference call. The following is a transcript of the call, which can be heard here.
Please note that the transcript has been edited for clarity and to eliminate grammatical errors from the transcription service.
MLS COMMISSIONER DON GARBER MEDIA TELECONFERENCE CALL TRANSCRIPT
COMMISSIONER GARBER: This is our annual state of the league, pre MLS Cup conference call. As I have done every year, we touch on some high points and wrap up what we've been doing over the past year, what we've been thinking about, and what kinds of things are on the horizon for us as we continue to plan and evolve the future of the league.
This is an exciting Cup for us. The first time we'll have teams in in the Championship game that will have a new star on their jersey. It's good when you're running a professional sports league to be able to have teams that have a chance every year to bring home some hardware and win a championship game.
We have a many flags in our conference room that have all the team names. And one thing that has always concerned me is if you look down that wall, there are only a handful of teams that have a lot of stars next to their logo. I'm excited that this year either FC Dallas or the Rapids will win their first championship.
It was a great year for our Coach of the Year, Schellas Hyndman. I spent some time talking to him the other day. He did break out the leather jacket after he took off the suit jacket and asked for permission to wear it during the Championship game. Schellas is obviously very excited and has made a really wonderful transition from SMU to the pro game. He has done such an amazing job putting together that team from where they were over the last couple years to where they are today.
But that Dallas team is just really good, young, and very fast. They're strong at every position, and I think they will be a tough team to stand up against in the championship game.
But I know that the Rapids are up for the task. They had an unbelievable game that I was at for the conference final in Denver. It (temperature) was in the high 20s, and they really dominated that game. Pablo (Mastroeni) again had another standout year, and it's just great for all of us to watch guys like Omar Cummings perform so well on our field.
I'll talk a little bit why we're excited about Omar when I discuss our reserve league. But really my hat goes off to Gary Smith for putting together a very strong team that will be a handful for Dallas, and I think it will be a very competitive Cup.
This is one of the first real cold weather MLS Cups for us. We were up in New England in 2002 where we had a pretty crisp day in November with nearly 62,000 people in the stadium.
The weather now in Toronto is calling for the high 40's, which is about what it was last year and might be better weather than it was in Seattle. (EDITOR'S NOTE: It was 46 degrees at game time at MLS Cup 2009 in Seattle)
MLSE (Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment) has truly earned the right to host this game as has the city and their fans. Tomorrow, the mayor will greet the MLS Cup Trophy, the Phil Anschutz Trophy when it gets off the plane in Toronto.
And I can't say enough, as you've heard me say many times before, what a great city Toronto has been and how excited we are for them to host our game next week.
We've just concluded our 15th season. It was a great year for both our league and for soccer in our country. Clearly with the excitement and success of our National Team in the World Cup our sport has really entered the mainstream in the United States.
I just left our conference room where we're rehearsing the run through for the World Cup bid presentation. And some of the images that we have and the stories that we have to tell about what our country has become as a true soccer nation. It really came -- in my mind -- to a full crescendo after Landon's goal and our entire country celebrating the victory in South Africa.
I believe it really helps establish us almost a second half, if you will, for what we can do if we're able to get the World Cup in 2022. I'll be happy to answer any questions about that.
Two new stadiums opened up this year, Red Bull Arena and PPL Park. We also had a new team come in, thePhiladelphia Union. Philadelphia was fourth in total attendance.
The Sons of Ben helped solidify our focus on supporters and supporters groups and had us fully understand how to deeply engrain and embed the supporter culture into our thinking.
When I was at the game in L.A. on Sunday night, there were supporter sections on both sides of the stadium that helped create an environment that was one of the best environments I'd ever seen at an MLS game. Their fans stayed for 10 or 15 minutes after the game just to celebrate the great season their team had, even though they had a frustrating loss in the (conference) championship game.
I’m sure many of you have been to Red Bull Arena. I can say without hesitation, it is one of the top stadiums of its size anywhere in the world. It has helped launch a whole new era for soccer in the metropolitan area here in New York City.
People care about this team. There is a buzz about the club on Wall Street. There is a buzz about the team in the media. There is real interest in that club reflected in their attendance. And it is certainly reflected in the cultural significance that Red Bull New York has today now that that the stadium and a couple of key signings have helped elevate the stature of that team.
We changed and modified our Designated Player rule this year allowing each club to add up to three designated players. And that rule allowed us to bring in Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez, and Geovanni, who had a great season in San Jose.
It's very exciting to be able to stand in a meeting at FIFA, to be at the Champions League final, or be around international soccer and have the entire community know who we are and respect what we're doing because we've got these great world-class players playing on the same field with some young, great American players.
That brings me to the homegrown player initiative. We now have 20 players in a rule that was just passed last year -- players who are on the first team. These are guys that have been signed to our rosters and we've created a mechanism to allow the teams to be incentivized to take these players out of youth academies and put them on their rosters. Some of these guys are truly going to be great. These players include Andy Najar, Tristan Bowen in L.A., and Juan Agudelo, who had a great playoff game in New York.
We believe these homegrown players are the future of our league. We are the only professional sports league the U.S. and Canada where a young player can train in the shadow of the stadium in which he'll make his professional debut. That is something that is part of the DNA of professional soccer everywhere around the world, and it's now going to be a big part of the DNA of Major League Soccer.
On the commercial front, we continue to make great strides. Our sponsorship business has grown, as it has grown every year. Our consumer product business is up 15 percent. We were able to bring in two companies on as sponsors that are companies that are also World Cup sponsors, Continental Tires and Castrol. Part of this connection to the global soccer landscape, we were able to build on this with the continued expansion of Soccer United Marketing.
All but a handful of our teams have jersey front sponsors. We'll be announcing additional new sponsors probably during the next 30 to 45 days. Within the next year every one of our teams will likely have a jersey front sponsor.
It frustrates me when the business community writes about it, and they talk about the fact that no professional sports leagues other than the auto racing leagues and the WNBA have jersey front sponsors. We've been doing this for a number of years. It represents somewhere between $20 and $30 million of revenue to our clubs and it's something that we're very proud of as our teams have been able to take advantage of it.
Moving over to competition. Our competition committee has been meeting regularly over the last couple of months.
Todd Durbin, our head of competition, made an announcement yesterday (on MLSsoccer Extratime Radio). And I'm going to make a couple more and talk to you about some of the things that we're really focused on leading into our last competition committee call tomorrow. We will ultimately make some recommendations that we'll be discussing to our board in our owners meeting this weekend.
Our competition committee is recommending that we remove the limit on the number of homegrown players that a club can sign within each year and our teams can sign as many of these players as they want to sign. The current limit is four per year.
This is again part of our plan to continue to expand the homegrown player and an academy approach that our league is so focused on. We will incentivize our teams to invest in their academies by allowing them to keep these players on their rosters or sign them to their rosters without having them to go through the MLS SuperDraft.
During the last couple of years, two years, in fact, our owners have spent more than $15 million dollars in investing beyond our salary budgets to enhance the quality of player on our field. It started with allowing our teams to sign three Designated Players. We reduced the budget charge for Designated Players, from 18% of the salary budget to 12.5% this year. We've increased our salary budget more than 15% from 2009 through 2011.
By the way, many people erroneously refer to our budget as a salary cap. It's not a cap. It's more of a foundation or a baseline. Most of our clubs are spending between $3.5 million to $4 million on their salary budgets. That is not counting Designated Player salaries. That is with allocations and other things that they're able to do, in essence, to become a fully funded MLS club salary budget.
We've increased the amount of allocation money. It is up to almost $10 million in 2011. That is money that we provide to our teams. (We provide it) to those that don't perform well at the end of the year. Teams can carry over that allocation money. We use this money in essence to boost our salary budgets so that our teams can have a higher quality of play and be more competitive. Not just here, but we're becoming increasingly more focused competing continentally in the CONCACAF Champions League.
We've provided our clubs more flexibility to use that allocation money to buy down their budget for Designated Players or other star players. So, in essence, clubs do not have to take that full budget charge. If clubs have allocation money they can write it down and have that player on their roster for less money (against the salary budget).
We're working with U.S. Soccer very closely to create a development task force on officiating. We'll be making some announcements after MLS Cup describing major commitments that we're mutually providing to try to help our officials with what it is that they need to do every day. This includes providing them with more technology, more resources, and even facilities that ultimately will help them do their jobs better every day.
Each club will have a 30 player first team roster in 2011, up from 26 this year. Roster spots 25 through 30 are only players 24 and under and those players will not count against the salary budget.
So, in essence, we're expanding our rosters so we can have more young players. Those young players will now be part of a Reserve Division in 2011. This new Reserve Division will be a major improvement on the one we had a few years ago. We recognized that we had some challenges when we launched it a few years ago.
But I tell you, even though we had those challenges, a number of our teams at the highest level, our playoff teams, had key players who probably would not be in Major League Soccer if it wasn't for the former Reserve Division.
Omar Cummings started as a reserve player for the Rapids in '07. He only saw action in 11 games with the first team. He's now one of the most exciting young players in Major League Soccer. Jeff Larentowicz, of the Rapids is an All Star now. His first season was as a reserve (he played in only one first-team match his rookie year).
Chris Wondolowski , what a great story he is. Our Budweiser Golden Boot winner (in 2010), he was the all-time leading scorer during the four years of our Reserve Division, and he had 31 goals (in the Reserve Division). And he probably wouldn't be in MLS without the Reserve Division.
In essence, it's the strong view of our Technical Committee that we need to have a Reserve Division as an essential part of the player development in the United States. So we'll have a Reserve Division that will have a ten game regular season followed by playoffs for the top eight teams. Clubs will be divided into three six team regions. Teams will play the other five teams in their region twice, and all of these games versus other MLS reserve teams will take place the day after the first-team match or possibly mid-week.
Clubs are permitted to schedule additional (reserve) games against outside competitors, competition such as the NASL or USL Pro.
Finally we're going to add eligibility rules for players who can participate in the Reserve Division. These matches can only have players who are on the club's roster or are on trial with the club or a member of the club's academy. So as much as we love Greg Lalas, our new editor in chief for MLSsoccer.com, we told Greg he's not going to be able to play on any club's MLS reserve team next year. (editor’s note: Lalas, a former MLS player, compete in reserve matches when he was retired and working as a TV analyst).
Regarding our schedule and our format, our season will consist of a 34 regular season game competition as we previously announced. Most teams will kick off much earlier this year, in mid-March on either the 19th or 20th. MLS Cup will take place Sunday, November 20. We'll likely have a stand-alone first game prior to the opening weekend. We plan to announce the club openers soon, and the entire schedule will be announced in January, possibly early February.
This year we've had more challenges producing our schedule than any other time before. FIFA/CONCACAF just announced they are working on a World Cup qualifying date that could end up in the middle of our playoffs. The expansion of qualifying with CONCACAF has created further complications. Producing our schedule gets increasingly more difficult each year. It is something that we have to work very, very hard with all sorts of challenges to get the schedule out as early as possible.
There are a handful of things that we'll talk about from a competition perspective at the Board Meeting. Those items include: conference alignment; a balanced versus an unbalanced regular season; and playoff format and qualification. We do expect to have some changes from our current playoff format. We are also reviewing the number of teams that qualify (for the MLS Cup Playoffs), currently eight, and potentially expanding that. But obviously we could potentially stay at our current eight.
We will make a recommendation on a venue for MLS Cup, including the possibility of having the championship game played at the stadium with the highest seeded club. This is something we looked at very hard last year and something we're looking at again this year.
We might be able to come out of the Board meeting with some of these decisions and our hope is to have some of these items announced after the Board meeting.
The CONCACAF Champions League is a tournament that we continue to believe is important for us to perform well in. We'll be continuing to analyze a variety of strategies to help our teams be more successful in the Champions League.
This is a priority for us, and something we're trying to figure out the right way to do it and still keep the integrity of our entire league system. But it's something that we're focused on.
With the Champions League, we don't expect the qualifications to change. Thus, the four MLS representatives are the L.A. Galaxy as the Supporters' Shield winner, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup winner Seattle Sounders, and the MLS Cup finalists, FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids.
You probably have seen that there have been a number of media reports about COMNEBOL indicating that they are open to having MLS clubs compete in Copa Libertadores. We appreciate that. It's something that we're open to considering, and we'll have those discussions. But we haven't had any of those discussions since we saw those reports.
Let's move to MLS Best XI. This is a program voted on by our coaches, players, GMs, and media. Here are the players are part of our best 11. The goalkeeper will be Donovan Ricketts of the L.A. Galaxy. Our defenders will be: Jamison Olave from Real Salt Lake, Omar Gonzalez, L.A. Galaxy, Nat Borchers, Real Salt Lake.
Midfielders: David Ferreira, FC Dallas, Dwayne De Rosario, Toronto FC, Sebastien Le Toux, Philadelphia Union,Javier Morales, Real Salt Lake, and Landon Donovan, the L.A. Galaxy.
The forwards will be: Edson Buddle, the Galaxy, and Chris Wondolowski of the Earthquakes.
We want to congratulate all these players on their outstanding seasons.
You probably noted that Landon (Donovan) is listed as a midfielder as opposed to the forward that he was listed on the ballot. Here's the reason why. For obvious reasons, Landon has been an absolutely standout player this year, including leading the league in assists. He is a guy that clearly has earned the right to be considered one of the best players in our league not because of who he is or what he's done for the national team, but for what he's done in Major League Soccer (this season). He had 16 assists, and he finished in the top handful in MVP voting. Due to the large number of votes that he received and the fact that it was in the Galaxy lineup as a midfielder nearly twice as many times as he was a forward, he was included on the Best XI as a midfielder rather than as a third forward.
So our view is we need to do the right thing. It is certainly right to have Landon as a Best XI.
There are a number of players that have retired this year. It's getting to the point now where some of the real greats that have helped make this league what it is today are leaving us to move on with their lives and their careers. (15-year veteran) Jaime Moreno is at the top of that list, along with Brian McBride. These are two guys that really will be a solid, firm, important part of our history for the rest of time, and I want to really congratulate Jaime for everything he's done for our league, and certainly Brian as well.
C.J. Brown, Mike Petke, Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman, Clint Mathis, Chris Klein and Eddie Lewis are all retiring, guys that had great careers. Some of them also had great careers in Europe. I want to thank them for all that they've done in creating great moments for us, but also helping to establish Major League Soccer for what it is today.
I'd also like to thank retiring midfielder from the Red Bulls, Seth Stammler, for all he's done not just on the field, but also in the community. Seth was named as the MLS W.O.R.K.S Humanitarian of the Year last week, and award that is very, very well deserved. He spent a lot of time and his own money working down in Haiti, a place that needs all of our time and attention. I want to thank Seth for all that he's done.
Looking forward to 2011 on a broad sense, we have Portland and Vancouver coming into the league. Both are doing very, very well with ticket sales. Both are making progress on the commercial side. Both ownership groups will be presenting to our board in Toronto this week.
Joey Saputo and his family will be in Toronto as well, the owner of the (Montreal) Impact, the 19th team that will join in 2012. The addition of Montreal and Vancouver, Toronto - - the largest cities in Canada - - gives us an incredible platform to help grow the sport in that country, a very passionate soccer country.
We'll debut two new stadiums really one new and two renovated stadiums next year. Kansas City will have a brand new soccer-specific stadium. Vancouver will be playing in a temporary stadium and moving into the renovated B.C. Place, and the renovated PGE Park will be opening up later in the season as well. I think it will be a very, very exciting time for us with these three stadiums.
So I'd like to thank everybody for their support being on the call, and happy to move to some questions.
Q: I guess my question for you is if you can maybe comment on bringing MLS Cup to Toronto and what moving into Canada has meant for the league, not only the last four seasons for Toronto FC, but looking towards the future as well?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Well, I think our expansion into Canada has transformed Major League Soccer. I don't think we'd be the league we are today without the success of Toronto FC and without the emergence of that club and its supporters' culture, which I believe is helping to drive our focus on being more and more authentic and catering to the soccer fan.
Toronto helped establish that foundation for us, and it will be taken to an even higher level with Vancouver and Montreal in the years to come.
(Vancouver Whitecaps owner) Greg Kerfoot is an active member of our competition committee. He is a soccer guy through and through. I think he will help us as he will be a very strong voice on our competition committee with his experience and his thinking.
We're actively engaged in television discussions, renewal discussions in Canada. And I believe that we'll have a broader footprint for our MLS national and local Canadian MLS team broadcasts, both next year and years to come.
It will allow us to continue to tap into the passion that exists up in Canada for the sport. I said when I was up in Toronto last month that I believe that Toronto FC fans and the support overall in that country is helping in many ways guide the connection that many American soccer fans have with their local clubs. And that's something that I think has been a positive development for our league.
We're certainly excited about being up in Toronto. I have said many times before, the city, the ownership group, the team and fans have earned the right to host our championship game, and I look forward to being up there this week.
Just a couple of important points, the U.S. Soccer Board meeting will take place during the week. The United States Soccer Foundation will have a board meeting up there this weekend, and MLS Board will be meeting. We'll have close to 600 or 700 sponsors, broadcast affiliates, and friends of the sport converging on Toronto to celebrate our championship game. And I think that's just a great way for us to say thank you to the city, to the team, and to their fans.
Q: The Canadian teams, both Toronto and Vancouver's front offices have hinted that the Canadian limitations on the rosters are going to be changed or, in fact, maybe eliminated next year. But there hasn't been any word from the league yet. Where are you standing with that and where are you sort of working with the Canadian Soccer Association in that respect?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: We're in discussions with the CSA. We have a close relationship with them. We'll continue those discussions. The best thing I can say is there is absolutely no intent to have any competitive imbalance between our American based, U.S. based teams and our Canadian based teams. We'll be sure that we work closely with the mutual federations to ensure that we achieve two goals: A balanced competitive environment in Major League Soccer, but also a league that can help stimulate the growth and success of our mutual national teams.
Q. To follow up a little bit on my Canadian colleagues. There is no denying the impact that MLS has had on the develop many of the U.S. National Team and its establishment as one of the dominant teams in CONCACAF and internationally competitive with three teams entering the league with three teams in the league from Canada, what affect will it have on the competitive landscaping and CONCACAF? What can the league do to help the Canadian National Team that's only ever qualified for one World Cup? And if you I could get a follow up?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Without a doubt we're working on this with our FIFA presentation for December 1st. There is no question that part of the success of the (U.S.) national team can be attributed to the growth and increased quality of play in Major League Soccer. And we hope, and I know that the CSA and our Canadian teams hope that with three first division professional teams we will be able to drive the increased quality and ultimately the success of the Canadian national team.
Up until recently, they didn't have a domestic league to play in. They had to go abroad. There are not as many jobs for them overseas, and there are limitations in their ability to play. And that has affected their competitiveness in CONCACAF.
I don't want to make a prediction, but I do believe that in time Canada will regularly compete for one of those (World Cup) qualification spots for our region. And it will be because of the success of the three teams in Canada and the growth and increased quality of competition in Major League Soccer.
Q. To follow up on question of competitiveness and competition. The two major sort of factors that the league adapted to sort of help drive teams to be competitive, the Designated Player Rule and the allocation rules used in the past. Does it surprise you and what do you make of the fact that the two teams that are in the final, neither of them have any designated players and the top players in the league who played in the World Cup this summer are not featured on either of the Colorado or Dallas rosters?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: I get asked this question a lot. Sitting where I sit, we very much believe a basic tenet of Major League Soccer is that every team at the beginning of the year has to make decisions that hopefully will provide them with the best chance to be competitive throughout the season and ultimately win MLS Cup.
With our system today, teams have to make a choice. They have to make a choice as to whether they want to invest in Designated Players that provide a wide variety of benefits to them, including a track record of experience performing in many cases overseas. Or do they want to spread their salary or spend their spending over players that perhaps don't earn the maximum salary, and, therefore, can provide a dynamic that will work for them.
In this case, two of those teams, both Dallas and Colorado, have opted to do it without Designated Players. But I want to point out there are maximum salary players on both teams. This is similar to a designated player at a maximum level. That designated player can be brought down with allocation money as can a maximum salary player (who is not a DP). So I don't think that it's unique. I don't believe that teams can't be competitive with Designated Players, and I don't think it's a competitive advantage to not have designated players.
I think that this year our conference final had multiple designated players on the field. In our playoffs we had a handful of our teams that had designated players. I don't believe there is any formula yet that's been fully established as to what is the right recipe for success.
The point is that we don't want to have a system like the one that existed in the NASL or other leagues where you can buy success. You might be able to balance success with Designated Players, but you're going to have to make sacrifices by not being able to spend as much money with the rest of your roster.
That story allows somebody in Denver or in Dallas or perhaps Salt Lake to believe that they could win the Cup without having a designated player. Certainly New York and L.A. think they can win the Cup with Designated Players. That's what sports are all about.
Q. How is the expansion landscape for New York looking? I know you've already talked to the Cosmos about that plot of land in Queens for a stadium. But can the city sustain some clubs expansion wise in these economic times? And secondly, you've talked a lot about MLS becoming more and more like soccer leagues around the world. With the 20th team in the league possibly as early as 2013, would that be the time to revisit the single table format and scrap the playoff format?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: As I said before, we're very focused on our 20th team in New York. We've been meeting with the city, we've been meeting with the Wilpon family, the owners of the Cosmos name and brand. We've also been meeting with other investors who have expressed interest.
We are very, very focused on this entire process and hope to be able to get something done for 2013.
The Red Bulls are very supportive of it. They believe a local rival will add even more passion for this sport and for the league in this market. There are 13 plus million people in this city, and there is more than enough to go around for two teams, particularly if one is in New York and one is the stadium is based across the river in New Jersey.
I'm not at all concerned about saturation, and I'm not concerned about our ability to manage 20 teams.
I will go to the next question which is where we are on single table and where we'll be on our alignment with other leagues. As I mentioned before, we're going to be talking a lot in the next 24 hours and then at our Board Meeting this weekend about our conferences, our schedule and our competition format. And every year we do deeply analyze whether or not it makes sense for us to have a single table and no playoffs. We also evaluate whether it makes sense to have a single table and playoffs, or whether it makes sense to have conferences and playoffs.
This year I wasn't pleased with how we had two Western teams playing in the Eastern Conference during the postseason and a Western-based team winning our Eastern Conference playoff final. That's not something that you plan on, but it's something that happened this year.
We're not going to change it because of what could be an anomaly. We're going to change it if we believe we could have a more compelling format and one that might be perhaps more balanced. It should also be one that would continue to deliver what our playoffs have delivered, which is momentum leading up to our championship game. It should be a format where there is more media coverage, more television ratings and more attendance as we get down to an event that is a single, stand-alone event, our championship game, the MLS Cup.
We'll never do away with playoffs. There is no reason to do that. I know it exists in other soccer leagues, but not all.
The question is do we have playoffs that are constructed differently that might perhaps be more international in their structure? Do we add games, make our playoffs longer? All of these things will be considered.
All of those can happen within a single table format. The single table discussion is whether there is a single table or whether there are conferences? Is it good to have teams as we did this weekend where they stand up in front of their fans and celebrate a playoff victory that doesn't necessarily have to be a victory in the championship game? Is it good for the players? Is it good for the media, the community? Right now we believe that it is, but we'll continue to discuss whether or not that format is something that we will continue with.
Q. I guess there have been a lot of people sort of wondering if everyone at headquarters was wringing their hands over the lack of marquee names and teams in the final. And while you may take a ratings hit, there is something to be said like you said earlier about new teams perhaps galvanizing markets that needed some galvanizing. I was wondering in your view of the league's long term development, is it more important to grow based upon getting that ratings hit? Getting on Sportscenter and having New York or L.A. in the final or does the league gain traction by having strong local markets like Seattle has done? Is it better to develop in the markets that need development? And as a follow up, why have Colorado and Dallas had so much trouble? These are originals and they've been around 15 years, why are they only averaging 10, 12,000 fans a game? Thanks.
COMMISSIONER GARBER: I think you answered your question with what you laid out fairly definitively articulates what we're thinking. There isn't a commissioner anywhere that doesn't sort of wring their hands when you have historic, legendary, impactful matchups because that will drive ratings and helps breakthrough.
It happened with the NHL this past year where they had record ratings for their Stanley Cup. Because they had two of their more historic teams that hadn't been there for a while in their final. The NBA certainly had it with the Celtics and Lakers.
However, we now have a lot of people buying season tickets in Denver, Dallas, Columbus and Salt Lake. And they're building fan bases and they're building relevance in their community. They (Dallas and Colorado) deserve to be in the championship game. If they do things right based on our system, then they have the opportunity to do so.
So thankfully we have long term relationships with our broadcast partners who have told you (journalists) many times they're in this for the long run. So I don't sit there and worry if we don't get the right rating that we will lose a broadcast partner.
I will say that I was in Denver Saturday night. There were 17,000 plus people there in 29° F weather. It was a great crowd and I was proud of what they were able to achieve. They sold all those tickets in a six day period. It was not part of the season ticket package.
That proves that if you have the right team and you market it right, that you can get people to attend games in any market. It speaks to the second question. Perhaps Denver needed this boost to re-launch what had been a very strong fan base in the early years of MLS.
Dallas certainly has an incredibly exciting team with great players who play a stylish game. Players that have been able to, I think, represent the great diversity that exists in Major League Soccer. I hope that Doug Quinn, their new president, is able to deliver significant crowd growth. I know FC Dallas’ season ticket renewals are way ahead of where they were last year. Their new season tickets are tracking faster than they have been almost in the last 10 years. So I'm confident those two teams will do better with the great seasons that they've had.
Q. Wondered, there have been some fan issues in Toronto this year between the fans and the club and part of it seems to be around having to pay for MLS Cup as part of the season ticket package. Are you concerned that there will be fans in Toronto who will be no shows on Sunday? And would that be a factor in deciding whether or not MLS Cup remains at a neutral site or goes to the higher seeded teams?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Both parts of that question are fair questions or fair points to make. Certainly I didn't expect Toronto to end the season on a note with their fans as they did. We certainly granted them MLS Cup before that happened. I'm not saying we would have changed it in any way. But it certainly has forced us to come up with pricing programs and other initiatives that TFC went through over the last 30 days to ensure that they're not doing things with their fans that will negatively impact their commitment to the club.
We had a conference call with them this morning. They're confident that their fans will come out and support the league as they've done at our All Star Game and as they've done with their club.
This league was founded by owners that were the people engaged in the NFL. The league continues to evolve away from what was a traditional American sports league model to a soccer league that is based in the United States. This is an evolutionary challenge for us to continue to evolve our thinking, and evolve some of the decisions we make understanding that we're still operating in America, and all the things that go into being an American sports business.
We love the idea of a stand alone game. We love the idea that the entire soccer community in America and Canada comes together at the Cup. That is a really positive thing for the sport. And we are very focused on driving the sport in North America, not just having a league. We take an active role in responsibility to growing the sport.
Having attended so many meaningful games, it would be great to see local fans celebrating a championship in their home market and having a game like we've had in Seattle or we had last Sunday night in L.A. Hopefully the home teams can celebrate, as there is something special about that home team playing in front of their fans in a championship.
But we've got to decide if we're able to deliver on that. Will we have enough time to sell tickets? What do we do if we're in a situation where the weather is horrible? How do we manage the logistics of hotel rooms and travel, not just the team travel but the rest of the festivities in and around it? I believe at some point we'll be ready for that. The question is will we be ready for it next year?
Q. Just wanted to follow up on the question about the Canadian quarter rules. You said that was something that you were probably going to leave unchanged at this point. Is it in your mind that it won't be an issue for Vancouver and Toronto to find eight Canadians each to field next year? And are you working toward the arrival of Montreal to maybe change the rule and figure something out for when the Impact come in?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: We will likely change this rule for next year. I'm hesitant to give detail because we're still in discussions with the CSA about what those changes will be. But I believe we'll change it. And those changes will help our teams be more competitive and at the same time provide the CSA with whatever value they're looking for to ensure we can help make the Canadian national team better. Unfortunately, we're in bit of a timing challenge here. We can't talk about the specifics until we've finalized our discussions with the CSA.
Q. But without would that change also take into account Montreal or are you going to need to tweak it further?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: I think if we're able to push through the change that's we're looking for, it will set up the right environment for both Vancouver and Montreal.
Q. And finally you mentioned that you were a little surprised by the fan reaction in Toronto towards the end of the season. How involved were you in helping Toronto FC react to that and what was your take on some of the issues that existed there?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Like all guys (commissioners) in my spot, you're involved in many of the challenges that each of your teams have. We were involved in this one. I want tom applaud (MLSE CFO) Tom (Anselmi) and (MLSE CEO) Richard Peddie for getting on it early. (TFC Director of Business Operations) Paul Beirne went out and met with supporter groups. Those supporter groups meetings turned into town hall meetings. They had almost half a dozen of these town hall meetings where they sat down and met with fans and talked about the issues. And those discussions helped drive the decisions that they made, which was, in essence, repackaging their pricing so that in essence the opening game would be at no cost.
When teams make those decisions, they can't make them unilaterally. They have to be approved by the league because it has an effect on the rest of our clubs and we were supportive of that.
There is a special thing going on in Toronto. We need to recognize that soccer is different than hockey and basketball. And their fans, soccer fans, have a relationship with their club that I think just transcends basic fan affinity and makes them feel almost as if the club is theirs.
While they can't be making those decisions, I think we have to spend more time talking to them about some of the decisions we make.
Q. What is being done to improve the TV viewership in the U.S? Obviously in the regular season you don't want to see your viewer ship go down year by year. So have there been talks how to improve the marketing of some of the games?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Well, it's not just as simple as marketing because if it was, that is an easy thing to fix. We collectively could spend more money marketing our game broadcast. It is a changing landscape here in the United States and in Canada.
We have been working with our broadcast partners to ensure we have the right schedule, to ensure that we're producing the games of the highest quality, all in high definition, to provide more exclusive nights or windows, and to work hard with each of them on promotion.
It's important to note that our seven of the highest rated games on ESPN occurred post World Cup. While our ratings haven't grown as much as we would have hoped, the overall growth and the number of soccer broadcasts, the number of soccer channels, and the overall excitement for the sport on television here and in Canada is such that we feel very positive about what our future television picture will be.
So at the end of the day, we spend a lot of time thinking about this, as do our broadcast partners. But it's not an easy solution.
Q. Following on the TV question. I wonder what the situation is, I understand the contract with FOX Soccer Channel runs out this year, and have you been in talks with anybody else? There is a suggestion that Versus might be an option for the league. Is there anything you can tell us about that?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: We're deeply engaged with our partner, FOX about renewal. We have not finalized a deal (with Fox Soccer Channel) at this point. We will remain in discussions with a number of other broadcast partners --including Versus -- and hope to be able to finalize something before the start of the season. But we have not finalized anything with FOX at this point.
Q. I thought I'd seen you quoted as saying it's not really a matter of television wise going from a .2 to a .4 but going from a .2 to a 1 or a 2. Is that accurate? Understanding the ratings have been fairly flat despite the World Cup, what kind of number have the people that you discussed, be it Versus, FOX, ESPN, what have you, what kind of numbers are they saying it is that they need or they would want to see over the length of the next contract?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: They haven't. In these negotiations you don't sit down and say this is our target. You try to get the best possible ratings you can, monetize those ratings along with advertising and sponsorship.
But we are not and never have been in any of our discussions targeting specific ratings. We want more and more people to watch our games as the popularity of our league continues to grow. The popularity of the sport continues to grow in North America.
If we do our job right, and we produce our games right and promote and market them appropriately, then our ratings should grow.
Q. I'm led to believe that the ratings have been fairly flat despite the World Cup. Is that surprising to you particularly in the Hispanic audience? Would you have expected a bigger bump than you got particularly with the Spanish speaking audience?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: I don't think so. There's so much soccer on television, so it's a double edged sword. People consumed a lot of soccer this summer. They got a lot of soccer with Premier League, with La Liga, the Champions League.
One of the challenges that we have as a league is we are uniquely part of a much more competitive landscape than the other major leagues are in this country. They (other domestic leagues) are competing against each other. We're competing against them, but also a half a dozen other soccer content providers. And we've got to find ways to breakthrough that clutter with the right partners, with the right schedule, with the right players on the field.
That's why it's an evolutionary process. Not something that's just going to happen overnight.
Q. The question is do you do anything to encourage the sort of game that Dallas plays, the sort of attractive product that will bring in sponsors, that will push up television ratings? That will allow you to announce that you've got a great gala occasion and you can produce the goods to prove it? It comes down to coaches. I'm wondering why you don't bring in some sort of quota for bringing young American coaches into your league? Why you do not insist that every team has at least one young American coach, maybe an assistant or an assistant's assistant on their roster here? Two of them have proved to be the most exciting coaches over the season.
COMMISSIONER GARBER: The challenge is that leagues and associations like FIFA or UEFA cannot and will not dictate how teams play. They (teams) will get rewarded or penalized at the gate, with their local television partners or sponsors with decisions they make.
I hope that Dallas will be rewarded for the great season that they had and playing the kind of attacking soccer that they play. (Dallas plays) relentlessly attacking with a number of players, many of them Latino in a very Latino market. Hopefully they've made decisions that will connect them in that community that are different than the decisions they've made in the past. Hopefully they'll be rewarded for that.
On a coaching perspective, Schellas Hyndman was a college coach. I don't know that anybody could have looked at Schellas' history and thought that he would be coming into the league with the type of team that he was able to create.
He did, and he's going to be rewarded by an appearance in the final. He is also our Coach of the Year.
As it relates to MLS players as coaches, we do have a program to incentivize our clubs to sign or hire as many ex players as coaches. And there is a long list of them. You know most of them from Cobi Jones, to Peter Vermes, and Peter Novak. The list goes on and on.
I don't necessarily think being an ex MLS player or coach is going to dictate your style of play. There is no recipe. There is no formula for what will determine how a player or how a coach is going to coach and what kind of style they'll have on the field.
What I will say is that we have looked at -- and I believe we should continue to look at -- are incentives for our teams for goals that they score, for wins -- as opposed to points that they generate, and a wide variety of other things that could incentivize teams to go out and play both to win and to score more goals.
At this Board meeting we'll make an extensive presentation that was put together with four or five outside consultants, as well as a European consulting firm that analyzed our game. We know everything there is to know about what's taken place on our field. We've looked at creating something called an attacking index that, in essence, ranks or rates our teams based on attacking soccer and the 10 things that in our view goes into what makes soccer attacking, and therefore more attractive to viewers and fans.
We've come up with a number of things that hopefully overtime can incentivize attacking soccer.
Q. I thought I heard you say earlier that you're considering ways to give salary budget consideration to teams that make it to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals. Did I hear that correctly, and if so, can you elaborate how that might work?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: It will be broader than that. Not just the semifinals. Right now we have two teams that will be in the quarters. So when they get into the quarters, as Salt Lake and Columbus are, it goes across an annual season. We don't know that the same players will be on the field.
We're looking at what types of things we can do when the players get into the quarters. Perhaps if they get further, there are other things that we can do.
All Champions League teams will receive more allocation money. That's something that we are discussing at our board meeting.
Q. Seems you're still studying how that will work or what parameters you might put on it?
COMMISIONER GARBER: That's correct. But I believe we'll come out of our board meeting with some movement on this.
Q. My question has to do with the fact that due to geographic reasons or competitive reasons you're forced to perhaps change the competition format next year whether it's playoffs, home seed in the MLS Cup. You might have to change it again the following year when Montreal and perhaps New York comes in or the year after that. Is there a level of frustration or concern over the fact that this is something that you're almost forced to tinker with on a yearly basis rather than have something that is set in stone for a number of consecutive years?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Yes. We are frustrated with it. But I'll say, importantly, we have to be brave enough to know that we're still in the middle of the process. And to just keep things as they are for consistency basis and perhaps have it wrong, to me, would be a bad decision.
Expansion is good. Sometime soon we will be done expanding. It is hard to argue that there have been any negatives that have come out of the growth of the league. We have to continue to evolve, and I believe we'll settle in on a permanent system sometime in probably three to five years. But probably not before then.
Q. So it is possible that the rules for the 2010 season will change for 2011. Could change for 2012, and could change again in 2013?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: The answer to that is maybe because we don't know what those changes will be, so we don't know if we'll change them again. But it's conceivable that we'd be changing them.
Are we going to have the ability to be balanced this year? We will not be able to be balanced in 2012. We'll have the ability to be balanced again in '13, if New York comes in. So our choices are to keep the system that's not working or to continue to tinker with it until it is finalized.
Q. Going with what you're talking about with the schedule. We talked about before with the balance. Is there any movement as to which direction that may end up for 2010? The other question is there any type of innovation that you're considering for your televised broadcast and trying to increase the ratings to get the viewer more involved? I don't know, microphones with the coaches or something along those lines?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Let me take the second one first. ESPN has debuted something called an Orbitor camera. They had it at the game on Sunday, and they've had it at the last few ESPN Thursday night games. It's a unique technology. It's almost like a permanent steady cam that sits at the midline, and it gives a great close up view that literally brings the game into your living room. That is an example of one of the things they've been tinkering with and will continue to do that.
All sports leagues want to drive their viewership, not just because it is good business, but more people are watching the games. We'll continue to work with our broadcasters and ownership to have the right product on the field. It's an ongoing process, and one that we're thankful we have the patient of our broadcast partners.
Q. The balance or unbalanced schedule for next year? Is there any feeling from you or the other owners about which way that's going to go since you have a chance for a balance?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: I can't make that call now. We'll know in a week. I can't give you an indication now.
Q. Assuming you mentioned this period of expansion will be ending fairly soon, assuming that 20 teams or there about, what will be the league's attitude to eager cities that are not in MLS at that point? And particularly I'm wondering if the league will be more open or encouraging that maybe some of the existing underperforming franchises be open to seeking those greener pastures?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Every sports league tries to avoid team moves at all costs. It is not a priority for us to move any of our existing teams. We'll do everything we can to work with those clubs that are not performing well.
That comes from deeply engaging them with our club services group to working with them to support their efforts with branding and marketing initiatives.
We know that in time, and I don't know what that time is, there will be a lot more teams in Major League Soccer. It's a big country. We cross three time zones. I don't know when it will be where we go beyond 20, but I would think at some point in our lifetime there will be more than 20 teams in MLS. But we have a long way to go before we can even consider that.
We'll work hard with New York, but we're still talking to people in Atlanta. We've had people in Florida reach out to us. Fans in Miami continue to inundate me with emails, and I appreciate that.
We've had interest in Orlando and in Tampa, plus interest in San Diego. There is a great deal of interest from many other cities and we'll continue to talk to those cities as we evolve our expansion plans.
Q. I wanted to follow up on that as to why it's so much focus on a second team in New York where the Red Bulls only seemed to start to turn to turn the corner of success, and are there perhaps not other areas of the country that the league might be better served going to as you mentioned in south or Florida, et cetera.
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Many questions are asked about this to drive our television ratings and overall popularity and interest in the sport. We're very focused on local rivalries being a key driver of growing our club's relevance. By growing local relevance, we believe that can translate into national relevance.
The phenomenon in the Pacific Northwest is something that we never could have dreamed of. We have debates now with our clubs and their supporters as to how many tickets they're going to have access to for away travel. From 500 tickets to many more that they're looking for.
The interest and the passion in the Pacific Northwest have driven our television ratings because Seattle is one of our biggest draws, even though it's not one of our biggest markets.
Rivalries do matter. Particularly, if you're a soccer fan, you know that is a big part of being a passionate supporter. While we have been focused at broadening our footprint here and in Canada, we do believe we need to have more rivalries, and that second team in New York will help us do that.
That being said, I can't imagine this will be a league when all is said and done that doesn't have teams in the south, certainly south of Washington, D.C. It's inconceivable that we won't have teams in the south at some point whether it's in Atlanta or Florida. The question is. “When will that be?”
Q. You mentioned that you're having discussions with the group that bought the Cosmos name. In the early days of the league there was a great aversion having to do with former NASL names, if you will. That seems to have changed. Why the change in thinking in that with the earthquakes, the white caps, the sounders, the timbers? Why the change in thinking?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: I can't comment on the names that were created before I arrived (in August of 1999). I will say that when I did arrive we became very focused on authenticity. And authenticity for some clubs was traditional names like FC Dallas, for example, or Toronto FC.
Tradition in other markets, like in Portland and Vancouver, is building on the success that they had and the legacy they had left over from the NASL. In many of those cases, those teams lived on in the minor leagues. The soccer support in those markets in many ways didn't leave or go away, it just changed. Those new teams have wanted to continue that history.
I believe we have a pretty good mix now. From a branding perspective, our clubs have a pretty good handle on what they want to be and how they want to represent themselves here and abroad.
An important point before we wrap up, you should all know that every club comes into the league office and presents its business plan. That process has been going on for the last 30 days.
Every team creates their brand vision and their mission as to how they want to go about achieving it. These visions or missions are things that they should be sharing publicly.
All of the clubs talk about what kind of team they want to be on the field. They discuss the style of play and the commitment to that style of play as it is part of their brand and part of what they're trying to do in connecting to their audiences.
Many of them have a more traditional approach. They want to be among the top teams in North America. They want to play an attacking style of soccer, et cetera.
In the early part of this league's history, they (clubs) did not have a sense as to what they wanted to be. There was one team that did, and that was D.C. United. And they've had a very firm vision as to what they wanted to be. They can't always deliver that with success on the field. But they can deliver in terms of who they are in the community, who they are as a brand, and what they are as a team. It's something that's been very consistent for the last 15 years.