Monday, November 19, 2007

MLS Commissioner Garber Puts on Smoke-and-Mirrors Show

Extremely interesting read-between-the-lines interview with MLS commissioner Don Garber in the New York Times on Saturday as a lead-in to yesterday's MLS Cup. Garber is a marketing guy and he's doing his best to put MLS on the map, but it's really a smoke-and-mirrors show for Americans.

Football fans understand what MLS is. It's second-tier football at best, and that's fine. It's an outlet here in the states for football fans to see the game in person and build loyalties with teams in their particular region. The league is growing, and I guess there's revenue with this single-entity business model--notice I said revenue and not necessarily profit. Though apparently, the league makes $30 million annually from television, which is decent money that rivals what the NHL gets I'm sure.

But the deception really gets deep when Garber starts talking about Beckham and Blanco and a host of Brazilians and Argentines and Colombians being an indication of progress and success. Talk about spreading it on thick. Talk about perpetuating an illusion. Let's get serious Mr. Garber, and you know it to be true, that Beckham is done as a player. Blanco too on a serious level. If they weren't, they wouldn't be playing here. Same goes for the Brazilians and Argentines and Colombians MLS has signed; if they were any good, they'd be in Europe.

You need look no further than prodigy Freddy Adu, signed at 14 for millions, and more from NIKE. He was nurtured, if you can even say that, in MLS and the first chance he got, he bolted for Europe. Ditto Clint Dempsey, DeMarcus Beasley, Tim Howard and a host of others. The U.S. National Team is probably unrecognizable to most MLS fans, because the majority is abroad.

Fact is: Beckham and Blanco were brought here to sell jerseys; Garber's clutching to the jersey sales numbers in the Q&A, see for yourself. They weren't brought here to grow the game, they were brought here to grow MLS' Q-rating.

Garber has some illusion of MLS becoming a major U.S. sport. No. It won't. It's been said before; there's too much competing for the same money and attention here. And the press hates soccer. It won't happen.

In closing, I'll excerpt the last question from the Q&A, which is a great one by Jack Bell:

Q. A number of Americans — Malcolm Glazer, Tom Hicks, Randy Lerner — have invested in teams in England. Why don’t they buy into M.L.S. instead?

A. There is no shortage of wealthy people who have an interest in M.L.S. My only concern would be if we had a shortage of investors.

The best thing that could ever happen for soccer in this country is to have people invest in soccer, whether in the United States, England or Spain. But one would argue there’s less stability and logic to the English football system than all would hope.

Can you smell the B.S.?

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