MLS hopes to place teams in Miami and Atlanta

Major League Soccer hopes to place its next two expansion teams

in Miami and Atlanta.

”We’re making progress in both of those markets. I wouldn’t say

we’re close,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said Tuesday ahead of

this weekend’s championship game between Real Salt Lake and

Sporting Kansas City.

Former Manchester United, Real Madrid and Los Angeles Galaxy

star David Beckham is leading the Miami effort and has the right to

an expansion team at a discount fee of $25 million.

”We are very excited about the opportunity of David putting

together an ownership group and finalizing a stadium site in

downtown Miami,” Garber said. ”We can’t go to Miami without the

right stadium solution. David understands that. The city

understands that. That is an indisputable fact.”

New teams have been announced for 2015 in New York City and

Orlando, Fla., increasing the league’s total to 21. MLS began with

10 teams in 1996, expanded to 12 and then contracted to 10 in 2002

when Miami and Tampa Bay were eliminated.

”The Miami today demographically, socially, politically is very

different from the Miami of 2002 where we folded the Miami

Fusion,” Garber said. ”So we believe Miami could work if we get

the right stadium situation. We don’t have that yet.”

Falcons owner Arthur Blank heads the Atlanta venture, which

would play at a new stadium for his NFL team, a venue scheduled to

open in 2017.

”We’ve been working on a downsizing technology that we think

would be unique, would be the only one of its kind anywhere in the

world,” Garber said. ”We’ve got to continue to work hard with

Atlanta to see if this whole project makes sense for them. But I am

encouraged by the discussions and hope to be able to finalize

something.”

They would give the league 23 teams, one short of the league’s

goal for 2020. Garber said Tuesday that Minneapolis, San Antonio,

St. Louis and Austin, Texas, are among the possibilities for a 24th

team.

MLS’s regular-season attendance average increased from 15,504 in

2006 to a record 18,807 last year before dropping slightly this

season to 18,594. Garber said the league is spending more than $20

million annually on player development and must grow revenue.

”Major League Soccer still loses money as an enterprise, and

we’ve got to find a way that we can get closer to being a

break-even enterprise,” he said.

The league receives an average of about $28 million annually

from its national broadcast contracts with ESPN, NBC and Univision,

which expire after the 2014 season. In the first season after

Beckham left the Galaxy, regular-season ratings dropped from an

average of 180,000 viewers to 170,000, according to Nielsen Media

Research. However, viewers for the playoffs not including the final

have increased from 240,000 to 270,000.

”We did a heat map of the MLS broadcast schedule against that

of the EPL, two other European leagues and the four other major

leagues in this country, and you get dizzy looking at the MLS

schedule,” Garber said. ”What we need to have is a consistent

game of the week or games of the week that run from the beginning

of year to the end of the year as much as we can at consistent

times. And if that can be a Friday or a Saturday or a Sunday, that

would be a positive.”

In its first season televising the English Premier League under

a $250 million, three-year contract, NBCSN is averaging 429,000 for

games televised in the U.S. mostly on weekend mornings. Nine games

on NBC are averaging 788,000.

”I think what NBC did for the Premier League is unprecedented

in the history of pro sports. They really took the Premier League

and made it as important as anything that was going on in the NBC

Universal family, and it’s paying off in ratings and it’s certainly

making economic sense for them,” Garber said. ”So if we’re able

to create that kind of a scenario with a broadcaster, I think it

would be beneficial for us.”

Garber also went into detail on the league’s examination of

whether to switch its March-to-December schedule to the

international calendar, which runs from August until May. MLS

discussed playing from July until December, taking a break and

finishing from late February until May.

”`It’s not just about are we going to play a few more games in

cold-weather markets at an earlier time of the year. It’s about

what do we do with an extended break, because I don’t care what

market it is, we’re not playing in February and in January in

places like Toronto, Vancouver,” he said. ”We went through some

fairly extensive discussions as a league to figure out if we could

do this sometime in the future. It wouldn’t have been for `14. But

that’s not something that we’re going to do in the

short-term.”

He also promised more transparency in the league’s complex and

opaque player control rules, which make if difficult at times to

determine which teams control rights.

”We are still evolving,” he said. ”and we still are doing

some of this stuff on the fly.”