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MLS won’t adopt goal-line technology by 2014 – high cost to blame

Apr 26, 2013, 8:50 AM EDT

Don_Garber

Despite Major League Soccer’s reputation as one of the world’s most tech-savvy leagues, the implementation of goal-line technology isn’t something fans will be seeing anytime soon.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber informed the Associated Press Sports Editors that the league won’t adopt goal-line technology for the 2014 season due to the exorbitant cost associated with implementing one of the four FIFA-approved systems: GoalControl-4D, Hawk-Eye, GoalRef and Cairos.

According to the AP, installation alone of GoalControl would cost approximately $260,000 per stadium and an additional $3,900 per game. The numbers have forced MLS to take a step back and contemplate what Garber calls “prioritizing how we spend our money.”

“[The cost] had us take a step back and pause and try to figure out: Is the value of having goal-line technology worth investing millions and millions and millions of dollars for the handful of moments where it’s relevant?” he said. “And our view has been that we’re going to wait and see how it works out. We certainly don’t need to be the first league that has it.”

Instead, the league will spend the next few seasons monitoring the technology to determine which source best fits MLS’ needs of balancing accuracy and success with cost. FIFA’s GoalControl-4D system, which will be used in World Cup 2014, and the Premier League’s Hawk-Eye system, which debuts next fall, are widely accepted as industry leaders at this point.

There’s no question that MLS will adopt goal-line technology at some point in the near future. Indeed, the due diligence process has been ongoing for some time now.  According to Nelson Rodriguez, vice president of competition and game operations, “Major League Soccer is a strong proponent of using technology in soccer where it enhances the game. We have met with multiple goal-line technology system manufacturers and we are carefully monitoring FIFA’s plans to implement one of them.

“As of today, the time required to purchase, receive, install and properly test the equipment precludes MLS from considering the approved system for use in our 2014 season, but we are hopeful that the system proves successful in the Confederations Cup and becomes more feasible for us in subsequent years.”

The news should not come as a major shock to MLS supporters. Taking on such high costs for an unproven product that will undoubtedly go through some growing pains in its first few years isn’t a wise investment for a streamlined, single-entity league. Holding off on immediate adoption will give the goal-line tech market time to mature, become more competitive and ultimately assure MLS a better deal on a better product.

There is, however, something depressing about the decision. For a league that champions itself on being on the forefront of the synthesis of soccer and technology, one would think MLS would be actively conjuring up means to implement the product regardless of the cost. Do they need to be first in line? No. It makes sense that a cash-flush entity like the Premier League is pioneering the movement. But there is something to being one of the early adopters.

It’s foreseeable that such a system could be implemented through sponsorship. MLS has yet to confirm or deny whether they are taking pitches from white knights looking to invest in America’s burgeoning soccer market but surely there are companies capable of shelling out a couple million in exchange for the acquisition of naming rights.

Adidas, Nike, Under Armor and Warrior all dump massive amounts of money on yearly kit sponsorships throughout the world. Even non-soccer oriented companies like Siemens, AON and Standard Chartered could look to get involved. Or, perhaps even more appropriate for a vision-based tech system, Ray Ban, Oakley or Lens Crafters could look to get in on the ground level.

Is it huge issue that MLS won’t be adopting goal-line technology by 2014? No. It’s smart to take time to allow the goal-line technology market to mature. But cost shouldn’t be the predominant reason threatening the league’s cutting edge status.

  1. geojock - Apr 26, 2013 at 9:11 AM

    Sounds way too expensive and it fixes maybe at most 5-10 calls a year. Not worth it in my opinion. What is 5 bad goal line calls when you weigh them against the other hundreds of bad game changing calls. Spend the money on better refs. We go overseas to get high profile designated players, why not go grab a good ref?

    • charliej11 - Apr 26, 2013 at 9:45 AM

      If it were 5-10 a year, I would say screw the cost do it anyway. I have been watching US soccer for almost 40 years and I don’t remember a goal line call I would have overturned.

      Obviously I have seen some, they replay the heck out of them when they happen.

      • joeyt360 - Apr 26, 2013 at 6:13 PM

        Yeah, at 5 calls a year it would be a close call, but I’m thinking it’s about 1 call every two years.

        I can think of an example, though: DC vs NY 0-0. They call a Bill Hamid save good, when it was anybody’s guess whether it really was. Even replays couldn’t tell. Technology might have solved that one. But that’s the only one I can think of in the last couple seasons.

  2. unclemosesgreen - Apr 26, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    The first-year cost of implementing the technology would be approximately the salary cap limit of 2 1/3 teams. I did quck and dirty math, assuming that a 20th team will be found in the next 2 months or so.

  3. sluggo271 - Apr 26, 2013 at 11:09 AM

    Should just implement NFL instant review policy. If it is too close to call….refs stop and review it….problem solved. If a goal, goal is awarded. If not a goal then a goal kick is awarded.

    • joeyt360 - Apr 26, 2013 at 6:14 PM

      Except as I just mentioned, the one and only time this has come up recently the replay was inconclusive.

  4. scoocha - Apr 26, 2013 at 12:27 PM

    Sluggo has it. American football has many moving parts, soccer very few. Replay could easily be done like NFL or simply hire another ref to stand next to the goal for 50K. Much cheaper proposition than GLT.

  5. bobinkc - Apr 26, 2013 at 4:05 PM

    Sorry, sluggo. From my perspective, the constant review of everything is what is killing the major league sports.

    Look at American football: constant review, thrown review flags (even with penalties for being wrong), mandatory scoring review in the final two minutes of each half have all led to stretching what used to be 2&1/2 hour games out to 3&1/2 hour games. And the major complaint against American football was the eternal “standing around doing nothing” that made the games interminable before the added reviews.

    Constant review was instituted in college basketball for March Madness this year. Referees became so terrified of making a wrong call that they were taking 5-10 minutes to review plays that should have taken no more than 1 minute to review and make a decision on. The pot finally boiled over when refs spent almost 10 minutes reviewing a play to add 2/10s of a second to the play and game clocks. Coaches with NO timeouts left were awarded a free, no-penalty-given, extra timeout to plot and plan and diagram the last 7.1 seconds of the game.

    Try to remember some of this garbage when you want goal-line review in the MLS. How would you like to spend the last 5 minutes of a game watching the ref and his crew over on the sidelines looking into a hood while players stand around on the field doing nothing, cramping up, stiffening up, and becoming less able to finish a game that is predicated on constant movement? I for one would not appreciate such a move, nor would I appreciate the price increase in my season tickets to accommodate the stated prices from the article.

    I agree with geojock in that I would like to see MUCH better referees recruited and paid better than the trash that calls some of the games now. Remember that when you want goal-line review, you are still only going to get what you pay for. If a ref and his sides can’t see the game well enough to call the game appropriately now, will they really be able to call the game any better with goal-line tech?

    Consider that if you implement goal-line tech, then we will want all-field tech in order to properly call all the fouls the field crew misses. How much will that cost and how much will it add to ticket prices? Remember, we have a sport that is still balanced on a very delicate cusp in the United States. Too much extra and we will watch while this league folds as have so many other leagues in this country.

    Whew, rant over, we will now return to normal programming: a weekend full of games.

  6. talgrath - Apr 26, 2013 at 6:11 PM

    A single year of reviews at the costs above comes out to be $392,600, that cost possibly drops in the next year if installation fees aren’t an every year cost but there are likely still some heft maintenance fees. For approximately $400,000 a year you have roughly 1/6th of a team’s salary cap (reminder, Designated Players do not count their salaries against the cap). For teams with money to spend, like the Red Bulls, Sounders or LA Galaxy $400,000 isn’t much, but for teams that are struggling financially, $400,000 is a lot. For $400,000 they can get a domestic designed player or pay a group of fresh young prospects to train in your reserves team.

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