DC United may have to consider move

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber says D.C. United

might relocate to a different site in the Washington-Baltimore

region next season because of high operating costs at RFK

Stadium.

”We have to aggressively figure a solution out, and that

solution needs to be figured out soon. And I am concerned about

where this team will be in 2012,” he said during a conference call

Thursday.

”I’m shocked to say that I believe they could be paying more

for their lease in RFK than any other team we have in the league,

and there is no doubt in my mind that it is a stadium that is

substandard to what soccer fans are able to experience in many

other markets in the United States and Canada.”

Winner of MLS titles in 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2004, D.C. United

has explored building a venue in Baltimore near Camden Yards and

M&T Bank Stadium. For now, Garber said the team must have a

lower rent next season.

”If that means that they can’t get a new improved lease in

D.C., they’ve got to move to another facility in the region. I will

be supportive of that, and in fact will help them do that,” he

said. ”And if it means they can’t find a solution in Baltimore,

then we’ll have to go through a process as we did with San Jose to

think about potentially moving the team. I believe that we’ll have

to go through that process, as well.”

Washington Mayor Vincent Gray did not sound optimistic about a

new stadium in a Twitter post Nov. 3.

”We value DC United & hope they stay in DC,” Gray tweeted.

”But District is in a challenging fiscal environment now &

publicly funded stadium not possible.”

San Jose moved to Houston after the 2005 season and was replaced

by a new team with the same name for 2008.

On other topics, Garber also said MLS will go to an unbalanced

34-game schedule next year and there is ”a very strong

possibility” next year’s MLS Cup will be played at the site of the

team that wins the Supporters Shield for best regular-season

record.

He said MLS merchandise sales increased 35 percent this year,

when the league’s regular-season attendance rose 7 percent to a

record 17,872. The league’s average viewers for telecasts on ESPN

and ESPN2 rose 16 percent to 311,000, according to Nielsen Media

Research, and viewers on Fox Soccer Channel increased 26 percent to

an average of 70,000. For Spanish-language broadcasts on

Telefutura, viewers increase 10 percent to an average of

233,000.

He said the wider interest helped enable a new secondary

contract with NBC Sports Network that starts next season.

”At the end of the day, we want to be one of the top soccer

leagues in the world. And we want to try to achieve that by 2022,”

Garber said. ”We want to the league of choice, the league of

choice for players, for sponsors, for fans.”

He said there has been no progress toward finding a venue in New

York that would enable the league to add a second team in the area,

but that MLS had hired a fulltime person to work on the project and

had retained three consultants. He said he anticipates the league

will resume talks with the Wilpon family after litigation filed by

the trustee seeking to recover money for the victims of the Bernard

Madoff Ponzi scheme is resolved.

Garber mentioned Las Vegas and Detroit as possibilities for

future expansion and said that although a Florida group was

interested, no potential ownership in Miami has emerged.

Garber hopes David Beckham will remain in the league after the

36-year-old English midfielder’s $32.5 million, five-year contract

with the Los Angeles Galaxy expires at the end of the season. He

said MLS teams ”for a while were on life support” after he was

hired in 1999 and that Beckham’s arrival in 2007 was a clear

boost.

”David has delivered for us on all aspects of our expectations,

both on and off the field,” Garber said. ”David had a terrific

year this year. It’s hard to argue that he wasn’t one of the more

important players on our fields and really contributed to his team

and to the league competitively. Off the field he continues to be

an important part of what drives some of the popularity of the

league both here and around the world. He remains a very popular

guy. His presence on the sports pages but also on the people pages

continues to grow as opposed to wane here in America, and we

benefit by that.”