As the FIFA World Cup approaches, interest in the sport in the United States has never been more intense.
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Don Garber, who had been MLS commissioner for the last sixteen years can be described as “ sitting on top of the World” just now, as interest in Soccer in the United States continues to reach new heights.
To begin with, on the 16th June, the United States National Soccer side will appear in their eighth consecutive FIFA World Cup tournament, when they kick off against Ghana – a remarkable feat by any standards – and with American born players now appearing for some of the leading club sides in the World while some of the world’s leading players are ready and willing to sign up to play in the MLS, it now appears that soccer is a sport to be taken seriously in the US- with a lot of the credit for that indesputable fact having to be presented to Don Garber.
Just a few days ago, Garber announced at a press conference that he signed a combined $720 million dollar deal with sports broadcasting giants ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision spread out over the next eight years, making for an increase of 500% from the MLS’s previous agreement.
As part of the deal ESPN and Fox Sports will share the English language broadcast rights for MLS games as well as both men’s and women’s national team matches, gladly agreeing to pay out a joint sum of $75 million per year for the next eight years for the privilege. Meanwhile the Spanish-language broadcasting channel Univision has signed up for the same period, committing to a contract scheduled to run till 2023, at $15 million per year.
Announcing the new agreements, Don Garber stated that MLS are once again honored to partner with ESPN, FOX and Univision, and even more so, to form the most comprehensive U.S. media rights partnership in the history of soccer in the country.
“The commitment from our television partners in terms of structure, length and magnitude is unprecedented, and these new partnerships are another strong indicator of the League’s continued growth and the overall fan interest in our sport.” Garber summed up.
As part of their agreement, ESPN, have also been granted some Spanish-language broadcasting rights, to broadcast a total of 40 MLS games on their Deportes channel catering for Hispanic sports fans in the United States.
The lucrative television deal is undoubtedly a reaction to the tremendous growth taking place in the MLS, with at least with two new teams, New York City FC (a collaboration between English Premier League champions Manchester City and the New York Yankees Major League Baseball team), and the Orlando Soccer Lions joining up for the start of the next season, which gets under way in March of 2015.
Bringing Sheik Mansour, billionaire owner of Manchester City into the MLS is a major breakthrough, with considerable financial clout and credibility at his disposal. Already rumors are rife that two of Europe’s most high profile players Frank Lampard and David Villa are on the verge of signing for New York City FC.
Lampard, now 36, has just wrapped up a thirteen year career with Chelsea in which he won just about every award available, while David Villa who starred in fabulous Barcelona’s side alongside Lionel Messi has just left Atletico Madrid, where he won another La Liga winners medal and took part in the European Champions League final just a few weeks ago against Real Madrid. Unlike many soccer veterans who have come to traditionally provide experience and glamor to the MLS towards the end of their careers, Villa is just 32 years-old, and would be a valuable signing for any European club in Europe. Bringing Villa to play alongside Lampard would certainly provide a major boost to New York City’s start in the competition.
US born soccer star Claudio Reyna, who played in the English Premier League with Manchester City has already signed up with New York City FC as their director of football operations, and will be poised to sign Lampard and Villa as the club’s two designated marquee signings- players whose salary caps can be higher than the cap set by the MLS.
Following New York City FC and the Orlando Soccer Lions into the MLS league for the start of the 2017 season will be with Arthur Blank’s yet to be named Atlanta, Georgia franchise. Blank’s team will almost certainly be joined by a team from Miami, Florida, which is being formed by a consortium figure headed by English born soccer superstar, who added his own personal glamor to the MLS when he played for LA Galaxy over five seasons from 2007-2012.
Don Garber was appointed as Commissioner of Major League Soccer in 1999 after spending 16 years with the National Football League.
A member of the United States Soccer Federation board of directors, Garber has spent his entire working life involved in the sports industry, working in a broad range of positions not only in administration but also in marketing and the media.