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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

2011 Major League Soccer Season Preview


Don Garber, Commissioner, Major League Soccer
New York, NY
March 11, 2011




Date: 03/11/2011 Location: New York, NY Description: Don Garber, Commissioner, Major League Soccer, briefs at the New York Foreign Press Center on the 2011 Major League Soccer Season. - State Dept Image

11:00 A.M., EDT

MODERATOR: Hi, everybody. Good morning. Good morning. Thank you so much for coming on this very busy news day. We’re really happy to have you here, and we’re very, very excited to host Major League Soccer today. And I would like to take a moment to just introduce the Commissioner for Major League Soccer, Mr. Don Garber, who will speak to you and then take questions from you.

So thank you all for coming, and when you take the questions – when you give a question please remember to tell him who you are and which publication you’re with. Thank you.

MR. GARBER: Thank you. Thank you, Karen (ph). And folks, I want to reiterate, again, I appreciate everybody coming out on a day where so much stuff is going on in the world that’s far more important than people kicking a round ball around. Even in this country, where soccer is really becoming more and more popular and more deeply embedded in our communities, we recognize that it is sport and there are other more important priorities, particularly on a day like today. But I appreciate everybody coming out.

We are the league that is the Division One professional soccer league in the United States. For those of you who live here, you might know about the Red Bulls that have a stadium right across the river in New Jersey and a brand new arena, one of the nicer small soccer stadiums anywhere in the world. And if you are here on assignment, we encourage to contact Marissa Bell (ph) or Sean (ph) and get an opportunity to go out and see that building. I think you will get a sense as to how far soccer or football has come in the United States when you see the facility that we have here in the tri-state area. It’s totally state-of-the-art. I would put it up against any stadium of its size anywhere in the world. So before you leave, if you’re interested in attending a game, just be sure to let us know.

This is a young league, and it’s an interesting project for all of us in our country that are involved in building a sport that could arguably be perceived as counter-cultural. It is not the most popular sport in America. Certainly, the other leagues that have been around for generations, and most of them over a hundred years, have a more deeply embedded relationship with the sports consumer in America.

But soccer, as a sport overall, is a deep growth business. The World Cup final in the United States that just took place this summer had a higher television rating than the World Series. It had a higher television rating than the Stanley Cup and a higher television rating than the NBA finals. So the country, as a soccer nation, has been really moving along very nicely. Most of the big international clubs come here for exhibitions every summer. We’ll be announcing a tournament that will include the biggest clubs in the world coming here and playing competitions against MLS clubs, including one of those super teams playing against our all stars in an event that we’ll have in Red Bull arena in July. There are three soccer networks in the United States, something that most people would be very surprised to know.

The issue for all of us in the professional game here in the U.S. is not about how to make the sport bigger; it’s about how to convert all those people that love the game into being fans of a local club and creating that passionate connection that families have with their soccer teams or football teams around the world. That’s a new process for us here in America.

The league is entering its 16th season. We now have 18 teams. It’s about the size that FIFA would like to restrict professional first division leagues. We are a big country here. We cross three time zones. We also have to teams in Canada, so there’s a very strong likelihood that we will end up with many more teams than the 18 that we have today. Our 19th team will come in 2012 in Montreal, and we’re actively trying to have a second team in New York, that will be our 20th team, that we hope to have a stadium in New York City.

The good story for us is that the American player is developing very, very well. Our national team, as you know, is in the top 20 annually and winning – beating Spain in the Confederations Cup last year and losing, unfortunately, in the second half to Brazil, but showing the rest of the world that we could stand toe-to-toe at this point with just about any team from around the world. Most of those kids who were playing are not what international or foreign press folks would think in terms of their demographics. We probably can field an all African American team today. We probably can field a team of players that were not born in this country, so it’s not the typical Anglo kid that’s growing up playing in Westchester or playing in Southern California. It’s kids that represent the United States as a nation that’s made up of every country from around the world. And our national team is something that we’re very proud of.

Our league has a similar dynamic. We have players on the Red Bulls that come from 17 different countries. That’s probably a roster makeup that is more diverse and more international than any other team certainly, in any of the other leagues around the United States, and probably starts to look like some of the international makeup of super clubs around the world. That’s because our country is made up of every country from around the world and it’s one of the great things that we have as one of our core equities. This is a country, as all of you know, that is shifting in its demographics. We’re becoming an increasingly Spanish-speaking country. The Latino community here in the United States loves the game. We’ve got to get them to love the local Major League Soccer team, and that’s something that we try to do every day.

Every game is televised on either ABC, Fox Soccer Channel, or in Spanish language on Univision. Every game is televised in high definition. So for a young league, every single game, whether it’s nationally broadcast or locally broadcast, is available on television.

Last comment before I get to any questions is it’s a digital landscape for us today. Yesterday, we just launched our iPad and iPhone apps. I encourage you, if you have an iPhone or an iPad to go to the iTunes store and download MLS MatchDay. It’s a featured app on iTunes and on Apple.com because we have the ability to try to take some real risks and go out and do things that the other leagues are perhaps more restricted in what their capabilities are. You can download a game on your iPad. You can press a button, you can stream that game to your television, and you can watch in high definition a live-streaming game on your mobile device, you can watch it on your tablet, you can watch it on your computer, and that’s something that I think you’ll see as you go through our brochure, talk through, and questions something that we’re very focused on.

So I didn’t want to take too much time in the opening comments. Happy to answer any questions that anybody might have – hopefully, maybe.

QUESTION: I’m Matthew Hall from SBS Australia. I’d like to ask you about your perhaps success with expansion and also historically shutting down teams. The league in Australia is struggling right now with its expansion program, and I’d just like to see if you –

MR. GARBER: I know Frank Lowy well and I know Ben. And we were both bidding against each other for the World Cup and both came out empty-handed. So we are – it’s a small community in what I would say are the emerging soccer nations around the world. So we follow them and some of the challenges that they’ve been having.

The good story for Major League Soccer is it’s a very strong viable business, and we have a very active commercial business and are able to capitalize on the sport’s marketing energy that exists in the United States. Because it’s a big country, they love sport, and corporate American loves sport, and there’s so many television channels that are looking for content. That dynamic is a bit different than it is in Australia, where the media landscape is perhaps not as fragmented as it is here in the U.S. In 2001, we folded two teams.

We folded a team in Tampa. We folded a team in Miami. The league had launched in 1996, and we realized at that point that unless we made some real changes in terms of our business model and our strategy, the league would not be here today. So we did a couple of things. The first thing we did is we started a marketing company Soccer United Marketing. In essence, that company represents most of the soccer content in North America. So the U.S. National Team, the Mexican National Team, FC Barcelona, the CONCACAF Gold Cup, all of those properties that have very little to do with Major League Soccer are represented by us, so we’re able to manage soccer intellectual property, generate revenues on that, and have those revenues feed the development of our professional league.

The first initiative for that, right after we folded those teams, was to go out and buy the World Cup rights. So Soccer United Marketing, Major League Soccer, owned the 2002 and 2006 English-language World Cup rights that we bought from FIFA, and we’re able to package that into this company so that we can build soccer, make the sport more popular, and hopefully the MLS teams would be one of those boats that would rise with the ever-rising tide – probably not a good analogy to use today.

The second thing that we did was build a lot of little stadiums. So now we have 13 of our teams playing in soccer-specific stadiums, massive investment – well north of a billion dollars in Red Bull arena or PPL Park in Philadelphia or the Home Depot Center or the Pizza Hut Park in Denver or Dick’s Sporting Goods Parks in Denver or Pizza Hut in Dallas, we’ve got lots of 20,000 to 25,000 seat stadiums with fields attached to them. And we have to double down and triple down by investing that extra money to control our buildings – one of the challenges I think that they have in Australia.

So the thing that I would say today is we don’t ever question our viability. It’s something we did 10 years ago. Now, it’s just a matter of how do we grow our ratings, how do we continue to expand smartly, how do we grow the quality of play, and how do we become more influential in this country.

QUESTION: Can you explain what you look for in expansion markets?

MR. GARBER: Yeah, it’s very – it starts with three things. It’s very straightforward. We need a good owner, a wealthy guy that’s got the desire and the vision to invest long-term in the sport. So our two new teams – a guy that some of you might know, Hank Paulson, former U.S. Treasury Secretary and ex-chairman of Goldman Sachs owns our new team in Portland that will start playing next week. The team in Vancouver is owned by a guy named Steve Luczo, who’s the chairman of Seagate, a major international technology company and one of the founders of Yahoo. And the basketball player, Steve Nash, by the way, is the third owner of that Vancouver team.

The second thing is a market that has some history of support for the team – for the sport. So Portland’s actually called Soccer City USA, and they’ve had the sport for many, many years. College soccer is very popular there. The NASL, the old days in the ‘80s and ‘70s, had a successful team in both Portland and Vancouver.

And the third is a good facility plan. So the Portland team is playing in an old stadium that’s been renovated with about $35 million of public funds to turn it into a soccer stadium. And BC Place has been renovated where the Vancouver Whitecaps will play.

Our expansion teams are very, very successful in MLS. Seattle Sounders will have 45,000 people going to our game next Tuesday night on the ESPN. Every game sells out. It’s a very, very popular team. In 2007, we had in Toronto a little stadium. Bank of America – Bank of Montreal Field, which is called BMO Park, which is downtown Toronto – 18,000 seats. That team sells out every game. It’s got probably 15,000 people on their waiting list for season tickets. So new teams have been working out very well for us.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MODERATOR: It’s not for the room (ph), it’s for the transcript. It’s for them, the tapes that they use.

QUESTION: Oh, yes. Yeah. Mamadou Niang, French Television, as well as African – West African TV networks. For the past 20 years, there has been an incredible culture of nurturing young players in this country. This is probably one of the (inaudible) countries next to Brazil and Holland that has travel teams, youngsters from – anywhere from 6 to 13 to 14 years old, girls and boys.

MR. GARBER: Right.

QUESTION: And we wonder with all of these (inaudible) of youngsters playing soccer all weekends, and yet there is a difficulty for having a pathway for them to Major League Soccer in terms of nurturing – America nurturing its own soccer stars. I mean, is thast something that MLS is interested in?

MR. GARBER: Sure. Well, there’s two things there, and it’s a good story for those of you – I mean, it’s fun to talk to guys that are from soccer cultures, right? It’s a very different discussion than perhaps we have with some of our domestic press. So there are 18 million kids that play soccer in America. It’s by far the largest grassroots sport in the United States. Believe it or not, it’s the largest grassroots sport in Canada. So if you go to Ontario where hockey is king, more kids play soccer in Canada, in Ontario, than play hockey. So that’s a good thing for all of us that are in the soccer business.

In the past – and it’s a very important part of our strategy – in the past, these kids were just developed – if you lived in Connecticut and you happen to be from the sport, all of a sudden the local soccer club would say, “Hey, you must know a lot about it. Why don’t you coach our players?” And we had what I’d call non-professionals who liked the game serving as the first coaches for young kids, and that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re developing the best players.

So now our federation, the U.S. Soccer Federation, is working hard with the grassroots community to do better and to coach with more of a curriculum that’s been developed by our national team. So Bob Bradley, the coach of the U.S. national team, and Thomas Rongen, who coaches our U20s and our Olympic team – these guys are responsible for creating a curriculum that we’re pushing down to grassroots America so that we can develop better players, to not have them all about – and you guys might live here in the community, you go to a grassroots soccer game, and their moms and dads are cheering and screaming and yelling, you got five-year-old kids who are trying to win games. You go to Brazil, they’re not playing to win. A, they’re playing for the love of the game, but they’re also playing to get better. So that’s something that we’ve been working on and investing money in at the grassroots level.


But most importantly to get the U14, U15, U17, every MLS team is required to have an academy. We’re spending anywhere between 500,000 and a million dollars a club. Now, we have 18 clubs. That’s a lot of money to develop better professional track players for our league. So if you develop a player in your academy – there are now 33 players in the last year that have been developed in MLS academies that are now on the first team roster. If you are the Red Bulls and you develop a player, he goes immediately onto your roster; he doesn’t go into that draft that the NBA and the NFL and the NHL and baseball have. So the analogy would be if Kobe Bryant – if the NBA had this system – Kobe Bryant grew up in Philly. If he was developed by the 76ers, right now he’d be playing in Philly, not in Los Angeles, because there wouldn’t be a draft access. So we put that in place, like it is everywhere in the world, and that’s what exists in Major League Soccer today.

So there’s a young 17, soon to be 18, year-old player for the Red Bulls. His name Juan Agudelo. Came here at eight years old, Colombian descent, playing on the first team for the Red Bulls, went over to South Africa in the exhibition right after the World Cup and scored a goal for our senior team. And this a guy that six months before he was in the academy nobody even knew who he was. So we’re going to be developing. Our U.S. team is going to be getting better and better because we’re professionally developing at that U17, U15, and U14 level.

Now, the challenge for us is they bypass college, and we’ve got to find a way that we’re dealing with that challenge. And it is a challenge. You’re going to Juan Agudelo and say be a pro and don’t get a college scholarship. And we’ve got to figure out how to manage that, because culturally in this country that could be a problem for us.

QUESTION: Just the one quick follow-up question. There also seems to be a conflict between the multiple disciplines. I mean, there’s like – multitasking in sports is very well known here in terms of basketball and football and softball. At the age of 14 it looks like they have to choose which way to go. Is that a conflict as well?

MR. GARBER: Well, I wouldn’t say it’s a conflict. I’d say 10 or 15 years ago they didn’t have to choose because there was no pro game here, so that great athlete was playing other sports. A great analogy is this guy Steve Nash, who is great Canadian player, one of the better players in the NBA. When he – he lives here in New York City. He works out with the Red Bulls. That coach has said that he can probably be a division one professional player. His brother plays for the Canadian national team. So tomorrow as opposed to yesterday, those players now have an opportunity to become a professional soccer player. And as MLS grows and can pay more money and can provide them with a better career opportunity than we were able to provide in the past, I think we’ll get more and more of those athletes turning to soccer.


By the way, there’s lots of issues. The concussion issues that are existing, both in hockey and American football, I think will create problems for the next generation in terms of it being a fait accompli that every big strong kid is going to play another sport. So I – we feel pretty good about the opportunity of getting great athletes. And as most of you know, you don’t need to be a big, strong, bruising person to play soccer. Messi is the best in the world in my opinion, and he’s about this big. He couldn’t play in the NFL and he couldn’t play in the NBA.

QUESTION: Sebastian Smith from AFP. A couple of questions. Can you update us on what the plans are for bringing foreign stars here and just a little bit about how important that is still? Because you’ve talked a lot about developing it on home soil.

MR. GARBER: Sure.

QUESTION: What’s the role of these players now? And are there any other names that are going to be coming? And just separately, a bit more of a sort of philosophical question. Can you – people have always said the problem is the low scoring and the fact you can have a game with nothing, no score at all. Is that a myth, or is it still real, and can you get over that?

MR. GARBER: Well, I don’t believe – to take – let me take the first one first. We must bring in bigger names and more popular international players if we’re going to be the league we want to be, which is one of the top leagues in the world. Today, the best players in the world, for the most part, are not here, and that’s because of where Major League Soccer is in its development. In order for us to compete with the Premier League or compete with La Liga (ph) or compete with Serie (ph), we’re going to have to grow a business so that some of the best players in the world are here. We don’t think that’s today. But if it’s not tomorrow, we’ll never be what we need to be.

So Beckham has been a great signing for us. He’s somebody that helped elevate the stature of the league, and by the way he can still play, or Tottenham wouldn’t want him or AC Milan wouldn’t want him. Thierry Henry and Rofa Marquez are two terrific players that have played at the highest levels, and they’re playing right here in New York. So you’ll start seeing more and more name players coming into MLS because we’ll be able to afford to pay them. Well, we’re going to have to pay them to leave wherever they are and come to the United States. We, like all other football leagues, as opposed to American leagues, do have restrictions on the number of international players. So the majority of the players will always be Americans so that we can support our national team, and that’s something that we think is important.

And the second part is I do believe that we have a soccer culture in America. Kids grow up playing and can walk away with a zero-zero game and not feel like they didn’t accomplish something. People watched the World Cup. They watch the Premier League on Fox and on ESPN and they’ll watch the Champions League at great numbers, and people are following the game. So I don’t believe today that that’s the issue that I think it was 20 years ago when we didn’t have a soccer culture in America. A lot of that culture is driven by people that are either expats, or they’ve traveled overseas, or they’ve played the game, or they played the EA FIFA game, which is the most popular game in the world, or they’re playing as kids. So that’s – I don’t believe that’s an issue for us, certainly not like it was in the past.

QUESTION: Are there any other big names on the horizon?

MR. GARBER: Not that’s coming this year in this window. Again, for – you guys all know this. There are two windows. The next summer window, I do believe we’ll start getting – most of the players that come into MLS on the transfer window come in the summer window, not the January window. And I do believe that they’ll be some bigger name – big name guys coming in. They have every year. Just can’t tell you who those are now. They’re either under contract or not talking to us. But that starts happening in April, May, June, and I expect it will bring in some more folks for sure.

QUESTION: Andras Ruszanov of Hungary media. (Inaudible) your discretion, there is any influential factor that – for MLS and keeping the level and the standard of the MLS that now the United States will host upcoming to World Cup?

MR. GARBER: Well, we were very disappointed. We’re still disappointed. That was not a process that I hope to ever have to go through again. I was on the executive committee of our World Cup bid. I thought we had a terrific bid. I think a World Cup in the United States would have raised value for every other FIFA member around the world. We would have generated north of a billion dollars in ticket revenue that could have been invested back into the game. That money doesn’t stay here. That goes to Zurich, and I would assume that they would distribute it to those countries that need it. For whatever reason, executive committee decided to put it in Qatar. I don't know how they’re going to pull it off with 120 degree heat and 400,000 residents, but I’m sure they’ll figure it out.


We were very excited about marshalling all of our states to get behind the sport, because all of those states would have hoped that they would have hosted World Cup matches, and that would have given us the pressure to be able to go to all those states and get them to invest more deeply, particularly in supporting grassroots soccer. Now we’ll just have to come up with plan B. But that knocked us back, and we’re pretty resilient. Americans are tough and thin skin. It’s not going to set us back. It might slow us down a bit though.

MODERATOR: Anybody else?

QUESTION: Can you talk to us about the possibility of a soccer stadium in New York City, especially considering the problems the Wilpon family is having? And will New York Cosmos be playing in that proposed stadium?

MR. GARBER: Boy, I’ll tell you, I had dinner last night with Chuck Blazer, who is the secretary general of CONCACAF and he brought Shep Messing, who was the goalkeeper for the Cosmos back in the day. And it seems like every day there’s some other happening with the re-launch of the Cosmos that we’re paying close attention to. They are – it’s been an exciting re-launch of a retro brand, and as you folks probably know, they need a team for it to be more than that. And we’re in discussions with them about coming into the league with our 20th team in New York City. We are also in conversations with the Wilpons as recently as the last week. And while they do have challenges that I am hopeful that they’ll get through, this is a long-term project and a long-term commitment. And we’ll remain in discussions with them because I think they’d be great owners in Major League Soccer.
 

The important story here is the city of New York wants to see a second team in New York City and would love to have a new soccer stadium somewhere in the metropolitan area. And we’ll continue working with the city to try to find sites for that stadium. And it could be in Queens – whether it’s in Flushing Meadow or in Willets Point or it’s in some other location, we’re working very hard on it. It’s a big priority for us at the league office.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

MR. GARBER: I mean there are a lots of possibilities. There are still many other undeveloped sites throughout the metropolitan area that the city is looking to develop. They just announced a low-income project at Hunters Point, land that had been abandoned for many, many years, and the city is – has been able to develop that. So we’ll continue to try to seek out similar sites that the city would hope we could find a way to develop a stadium. But I can’t tell you more than that because we’re just not any further along.

QUESTION: Right here. Marcus (inaudible) from (inaudible) media. Did you consider the site on Randall’s Island? I think there’s a stadium already there, and it’s a big football area. A lot of amateur soccer players go there.

MR. GARBER: We did. It’s a site we’re looking at. The Icahn Stadium is too small. I think if the Cosmos or a second New York team, it probably would have to be a 25-35,000 seat stadium, and the track and field stadium at Icahn is too small. But there are other sites on Randall’s Island. We’ll continue to look at that.

The city has been engaged in trying to create and stimulate water transportation, and they’ve just launched a ferry service on the East Side that replicates what goes between New Jersey and the West Side of Manhattan. So I actually think it would be pretty cool if we could have a stadium there and people are going to games, walking across a footbridge or taking large ferries. I think it would be an exciting location.

QUESTION: Hi, it’s Rolf Benders with Germany’s business daily Handelsblatt. I would like to know two things. The one thing is: How – can you tell us a bit about the financial situation of MLS, how the profit/loss situation was last year and what you expect for this year? And the second question is more on the reputation side of MLS, meaning Europe. You still have the reputation to be the league with all these old players from Europe that once were really stars, and now playing here to have a good retirement time. So can you address that?

MR. GARBER: Sure. The league is in good financial shape. A number of our teams are profitable. A number of them are operating in and around break even, and a number of them are losing money. But I would say overall as an enterprise, we feel pretty good about our financial condition, and better than we have at any other point in the league’s history. The story, again, for those of you who are close to it, profitability is a function of what you make and what you spend. And we need to spend more money. So we are constantly trying to operate in a way where we’re managing to break even but when we start generating more income, going out and buying younger, bigger star players so that we could raise the quality of play. So we feel very good about that – our financial condition today.

The average age of players in this league is 26 years old. Now, what happens when you’re living in Germany and you see us talking to Beckham or you’re talking to Henry who is in his early 30s, there’s the perception that it was like the NASL was in the old days where guys were retiring here. But we have about 10 players like that, and we have 300 players in the league. And the vast majority of our players are young, whether they’re international players or they’re domestic players. So the number one group of players – interesting story for international press – are Americans. We have now two teams, soon to be three teams in Canada. So the second group are Canadians. The third group are Colombians. The fourth group are Argentineans and Brazilians. So we’ve got dozens and dozens and dozens of young players that are either from our country or from Canada or coming from South America and Central America. And those are the players that we’re probably the most excited about.

And we have a perception issue in how we’re perceived overseas. That’s something that we’ve got to focus on. But we’re focused more on trying to raise it here. And if we raise it here, then automatically it will improve around the world. And our national team actually helps us with that.

Keep going.

QUESTION: Yeah, what’s the situation with relegation? Have you considered introducing relegation into the MLS?

MR. GARBER: Not anytime soon. I think it would be an exciting thing for us to be able to achieve. But the structure of American leagues are such that it’s almost impossible to think of that at any time soon. I think the rest of the football community thinks it’s odd that all of the sudden the Vancouver Whitecaps appear in our league. We sell them an expansion team, and all of the sudden they’re playing as opposed to moving up. Our challenge is this sport on a professional level is very immature in North America. There is no strong second division. There’s no teams to promote, let alone what would happen to relegate them. Where would they go? What league would they play in? That second division doesn’t have a television contract. It has no sponsorship. It’s not developing players. It doesn’t have the hundreds and hundreds of years of history that exist in the rest of the world But it would be exciting if we could pull it off.

Anybody else?

QUESTION: We have one more.

MR. GARBER: Sure.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) There’s been a lot of complaints about corruption in FIFA, and in the game in general. And there’s been betting scandals. The game’s not perfect at all in many areas of the world – Asia, the lot of betting syndicates in Asia believed to bet on games in Europe. Have you experienced any of that problem coming over to the states? Is there major betting on games in the states? And are you taking any measures to prevent a corruption – corruption of referees and players and the drug taking as well?

MR. GARBER: Sure. It’s good questions. And I’ll take – I’ll move all the way to the end to the drug testing issue. There’s a different relationship that gambling has with sport overseas than exists here in America. While there’s no shortage of gambling on NFL games and gambling on basketball games and other sports, it’s a different cultural phenomenon than it is in the rest of the world. And we, the pro sports leagues, have a lot of restrictions in terms of what we’ll even allow. So you will never see ibet.com on the front of an MLS team jersey, and you won’t see us selling sponsorships to betting groups. So we’re not authenticating and acknowledging that it’s okay to bet on professional sports matches. That being said, you can’t stop it from happening. That’s not really our role.

What we do have, and I don’t know whether those exist in the rest of the world is, the American leagues have a very, very sophisticated security system that exists, even a young league like Major League Soccer. So every club has a security official that travels with the club. That person is an ex-FBI agent or an ex-police officer, and that person is at every game and traveling with the club and ensuring that we’re keeping our players away from any of those elements that at least we can control. So we had – one of our clubs wanted to have as their visiting hotel, have the players stay in a casino. It was a beautiful casino, and it was a beautiful hotel. We wouldn’t allow them to do that. We just don’t want to have 25-year-old kids having to walk through blackjack tables and be exposed to an element that we don’t think would be appropriate. We’ve never had a gambling incident or a betting incident, and it’s not something, again, in 16 years that we’ve seen as an issue.

As it relates to drug testing, which is an issue that he pro sports leagues have been trying to manage through for the last decade or so, MLS because it has a very close relationship with our labor union, has as a rule – and it was the first thing that we agreed to in our collective bargaining agreement – is the fact that any player who fails a drug test, I have the right to cancel that player’s contract. It’s almost unprecedented in sport. Every player is tested what’s called regularly and randomly, and soccer generally does not have a drug issue like exists in other leagues. It’s the nature of the sport globally that there have not been that many incidences even throughout Europe. But like all the other leagues, we’ve been very active in trying to police that and prevent it from happening. We’re proud of that by the way. I’ve never had an incident that created problems for us.

MODERATOR: Is that it? Anybody?

QUESTION: Yes, some of us find it sometimes very frustrating to deal with the media department of some of these clubs. I mean, as far as I’m concerned, especially with the Red Bulls. We understand sometime when there is a flood of a new talent player like Thierry Henry, it was very difficult. There is a guy – I think his name is Brian Tsao who is absolutely utterly difficult to reach. And there is a really sense of discrimination as far as I am – and off toward the end of last year, Moroccan Television 2M had asked me – assigned me to cover a player that was drafted from Los Angeles to the Red Bulls. I sent him two emails; I never got a reply.

MR. GARBER: Well, here’s – good. Take his card, and we’ll help you out with that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) players at Red Bull that I really wanted to cover, and I do not get any response from him.

MR. GARBER: Yeah, we’ll fix that. I will say that what we hear from the European media generally is when they travel, particularly when these international tours happen, they can’t believe the access we provide to the press. It’s very different. There’s no mix zones. Our press goes into the locker room and sit and talk to any player. We’ve been pretty – it’s interesting. Red Bull has got a European mentality in terms of how they’re managing themselves. We should be sure that they’re doing what they need to do. We’ve got very tight regulations on that. We have rules with our clubs, rules with our players and coaches in terms of what availability is required. If they don’t do that, they get fined. It’s very different than the other leagues around the world. So we’ll be able to address that.

QUESTION: There’s a discussion going on in Europe to introduce electronic tools to determine whether there is – there was a goal scored or not. And you have a long tradition of tools like this in other sports in this country. How is that with MLS?
 

MR. GARBER: I’ll answer this carefully, but candidly. These decisions are driven by FIFA. And the IFB, the group that’s out of the UK and Wales and Ireland seem to be the folks that control these decisions. I’m not quite sure I understand why that is. But I would be a strong proponent of technology to aid in ensuring that the right call is made. It’s not my call, but if it was my call, I’d be more aggressive. I’d be more aggressive than were I able to do. I think American – fans generally want to see a proper result. And I don’t believe that it’s one of the beauties of the game to have a call that’s missed not get addressed. It’s just I’m an American sports guy. I think the NHL’s got it right, the NFL’s got it right, International Tennis has it right, and I would be an advocate of seeing technology. I’m an advocate of the extra officials that are being tested on the end line. I know there are lots of logistical challenges to figure out how to make that work. But I’d like not to see what happened in the England game in the World Cup affect the result in a really important match. It just doesn’t seem right to me.

QUESTION: This all sounds very positive about MLS and your plans, but what do you think you could do better?

MR. GARBER: Boy, we’ve got to do a lot better. We’ve got to grow our television ratings. We’ve got to get more people who are soccer fans to be MLS fans. And that’s really our biggest challenge and the thing that we need to focus the most on as it relates to our business. The second part is we’ve got to raise the quality of play. More and more people in this country are getting exposed to this game, and they know the difference between FC Barcelona and the New York Red Bulls. And that’s not something we could address immediately, but I think there are lots of things we could do to ensure that he quality of the game gets better. And that’s got to be done financially in an effective way so we don’t have some of the challenges, for example, that exist in Australia. Those are the two big initiatives that I would call strategic focus for us.

QUESTION: And have you got any comment about the forthcoming FIFA – sorry, the FIFA presidency? I believe there’s going to be a number of candidates putting themselves forward for the FIFA presidency, including a U.S. candidate. I got his name here – Grant Wahl.

MR. GARBER: Right.

QUESTION: Yes, and Mohammad bin Hammam. And according to the news the one I’m looking at now, Mohammad bin Hammam has got the support of the English FA. Do you have any preferred candidate?

MR. GARBER: No. I’ve been at this now 11 years. So I’m going to stay out of supporting anybody on the political front. I think it’s – like the question that you asked, we all can get better, and it would be good for us all to focus on ways that we can improve the game. And we have a very close relationship with FIFA, and I think FIFA has been very supportive of the growth of the game here in this country. But I will leave the political aspect of it to our chief of U.S. Soccer and our representatives at CONCACAF. I don’t have a vote, and I’m thankful that I don’t.

MODERATOR: Okay, I think that is the end.

MR. GARBER: Great, thanks very much, folks for coming, and I appreciate you spending time with me.

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