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Garber on MLS Expansion, MLS Broadcast Package, World Cup, U-22s, More

In his State of the League address just three teams are on the list for spot number 30 in MLS expansion.

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MLS: MLS All-Star Game Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, MLS Commissioner Don Garber gave his annual “State of the League” address. He made time to talk about lots of topics, including the leagues new diversity and inclusions initiatives, this weekend’s MLS Cup and the World Cup expanding. You can watch it for yourself, or we’ve hit some highlights below if you don’t have an hour.

MLS Expansion

Bad news Sacramento Republic fans, you are being left in the cold. The city that previously was the 30th team seems to be forgotten. Instead, Las Vegas, Nevada received the most attention with mentions for Phoenix, Arizona and San Diego, California. When asked, “Is it safe to confirm that Vegas is the front runner for the 30th club,” Garber responded with a simple, “yes.”

Garber went on to talk about how whatever the Oakland Athletics (MLB) do, “will have no impact on our plans whatsoever” (the A’s are rumored to be moving to Vegas too). He was also hopeful that an announcement would be made in the next 12 months. This has been a change from 2017-19 when it was a fever pitch of announcing teams left and right.

If you are Sacramento, Phoenix, San Diego or another hopeful city, don’t let the next quote confuse you. “We don’t have any plans to expand beyond 30 teams at this time,” said Garber. But then he hedged a ton and eventually said, “I’m not quite sure 30 teams is the ultimate end goal for Major League Soccer.” He kept saying don’t read into it that the league will go beyond 30, but of course they will. This feels like Garber trying to drive up the price for team 30, while leaving the door open for 31 and 32 (and hell, maybe 40, right Peter??). Remember there was a huge jump from the $200 million St. Louis is paying to the $350 million Charlotte are paying to cut the line in 2022.

Regardless, it seems the Las Vegas Villains (name not final, though I like it) are that much closer to becoming a reality. Garber did add a caveat that a city like Phoenix could jump the line if they are willing to build a stadium like a “mini” Allegiant or State Farm Stadium. In other words, something indoors, which they were previously reluctant to do.

MLS’ New Broadcast Package

It’s widely known that the current broadcast agreements, many of which are setup by teams individually, end after the 2022 season. It’s been a point of contention across Major League Soccer, as well as other sports that sell their product regionally (NBA, NHL, MLB) that fans are locked out of watching their team play, specifically in region (Sporting KC is no exception) unless you buy the right cable package. MLS plans to fix that.

It won’t happen for the 2022 season, but the league hopes to make an announcement by the end of quarter one of 2022 for the 2023 season. “We’ve been out in the market with an unprecedented package of rights that will include every MLS game, whether it be a local game, a national game, an international game, out of market, or whether it be linear or streaming,” said Garber. He also confirmed the newly announced MLS Next PRO will be part of that deal, along with some amateur games from MLS Next academies. No details were released on how to watch that product this year but this does feel somewhat promising.

I saw some folks hoping it would be on over the air channels like ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX so that they don’t have to “pay extra” for it, but I don’t suspect that’ll be the case for the majority of the games. MLS still draws fairly low ratings. I imagine, even in market, it’ll end up on a subscription service. I’m hoping more for ESPN+ versus something like Paramount Plus which doesn’t offer you to do anything but watch a game live or watch it the next day. This isn’t the 90s, I don’t plan my life around TV shows (though I almost always watch SKC live, but that’s not 100 percent).

A nice alternative, which almost surely won’t be the solution, is an MLS channel. They have one of the free Pluto TV streaming service which shows a lot of their YouTube content. But if they had a channel(s), it could be in your cable/satellite/streaming package OR it could be sold stand-alone. I’m sure I don’t know how the television industry works, but it just came to me.

More Garber Tidbits

  • He is against a World Cup every two-years. He was careful in his wording as to not piss off FIFA, but I’m with Don here. Keep it special. Keep it to once every four years for both the men and the women.
  • Garber gave a special retirement shout to future Sporting KC Legend, Matt Besler (as well as others like Chris Wondolowski). I believe he called them legends.
  • He said the new (in 2021) U-22 initiative has brought in nearly 40 players. This number felt high to me, which means this designation is likely being used on guys without transfer fees just to lower their budget charge, which makes sense. There have been big outlays on some notable players, but it’s nice to see teams finding creative ways to use the new rule.
  • He talked about his prior comments that MLS is a “selling league.” Garber said, “we still buy more than we sell,” to emphasize that MLS has actually spent more than many of the teams in the world, in part due to their healthy ownership groups full of billionaires.
  • Garber gave stadium updates including that (HA!) New York City FC are still working towards a stadium and that St. Louis City SC’s stadium will open in late 2022, despite not joining the league until 2023. I’d love to see SKC II and SLC SC’s (that is a terrible acronym) MLS Next PRO teams face each other there to a huge crowd (but that won’t happen). Garber was also questioned on Charlotte playing in an NFL stadium and he said it’s worked well for Atlanta and Seattle because the team owner controls the stadium and they’ll take a wait and see approach as they join the league in 2022.
  • There is no plan to expand from two conferences. Nashville SC are moving to the West this year. They’ve spent the last two seasons in the East but are doomed to ping back and forth with incoming expansion teams as presumably St. Louis will push them back East (or they could wait until the 30th team is announced).
  • There are also no plans to change the rules around roster construction to compete with Liga MX. Garber plans to wait and see how MLS does in 2023 with the new version of the Leagues Cup stopping the season for a month.
  • MLS is expanding on their version of the NFL’s Rooney Rule and changing the requirements around interview minority candidates for positions.

While I sat in live on the call, Sam Stejskal of The Athletic has additional details around a few of the topics, in particular the details of ownership groups for Vegas or the Real Salt Lake sale, as well as the diversity and inclusion policy, including the fines for not complying.