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MLS commissioner Don Garber talks about managing growth

Jan 9, 2014, 7:22 PM EDT

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Soccer tends to be a bit insular, still a bit “niche driven” in this country; it’s just the condition of the game.

Supporters here sometimes forget that it’s important to see how the rest of the sports fans, those outside the soccer bubble, see the game. The good news arrives in the increasingly positive spin.

Inc. magazine, a well-established New York-based monthly that focuses on growing companies, has just put a big check mark beside MLS.

An Inc. article now available on-line is built around MLS commissioner Don Garber and his thoughts on managing growth. The article points out the recent Columbus Crew franchise sell for more than $60 million. Inc. calls that figure “a solid midmarket number that, though it pale in comparison to the valuations for Major League Baseball and National Football League teams …”

Meanwhile, something to keep in mind – this is from the article:

With fast growth comes the capacity to run off the rails. To that end, it’s important to keep measure of success – and be quick to diagnose when something might go wrong. MLS’s key performance indicators – which Garber listed as national and local television and media coverage, the development of soccer-specific stadiums, as well as TV ratings and stadium attendance figures.

The attendance number is easily explained: Chivas USA, with an average attendance listed generously at 8,366 per home match, did some damage in dragging down the league’s entire bottom line.

The next low performers after that won’t cause nearly as much worry. San Jose is near the bottom (12,765, second lowest last year) thanks mostly to the limited capacity of its small ground, which the club will use for just one more season. And it’s reasonable to expect attendance around D.C. United (13,646, third-lowest last year) to improve, coming off what was statistically the worst season ever for an MLS club.

The TV numbers do need improvement – especially with all the national contracts expiring at the end of this year.

  1. dfstell - Jan 9, 2014 at 7:56 PM

    I’m often critical of MLS, but I like what they’re doing. They’re hiring some stars that I actually want to watch. That is a MUST because after a day full of watching the European leagues, there has to be a compelling reason to watch another game and have my wife ask, “Is that the FIFTH soccer game you’ve watched today?” As of now, there are quite a few MLS clubs that I casually watch if they’re on TV: LA Galaxy, Sporting, Red Bulls, Seattle, Portland and now….Toronto.

    They need that star power to get the TV money that is necessary to really grow.

    One thing I’m curious about is how these Dempsey/Bradley signings will affect the next CBA. Isn’t the CBA up after this season? For years, MLS could tell those guys making $40K/year that they just didn’t have any money. Well…they can’t say that now. For the price of ONE Dempsey, you could probably raise the league minimum to ~$80K. Of course, when they raise the league minimum, that doesn’t mean that those guys schlepping for $40K just get a raise…..probably a lot of them will be out of work as MLS brings in new players who are worth a higher wage.

    The last thing MLS needs now is a work stoppage, so I’ll be curious to see if they handle the CBA proactively.

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