TORONTO -- The 15th MLS Cup final takes place here on Sunday between Dallas and Colorado (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET), and on Friday morning I sat down with MLS commissioner Don Garber for what has become an annual one-on-one chat about the league and soccer in America. Here's our conversation (edited for length and clarity):
We also have a country that loves this game. Our whole brand positioning of The Game in the U.S. is a validation of how far this country has come as a soccer nation. We have the best facilities in the world. It's obviously a huge commercial market. It's a great place for people to visit. I sit on the board, but it's my personal view that I hope we're able to bring it home. It's in the best interest of the sport if we're able to get the World Cup back. And should we do that it gives us a 12-year runway to build this sport even further, to capitalize on the momentum we already have and take it to the next level in every way: from fan, player and facility development to marketing, branding and promotion. There are very few things that we can do that can build the sport over the next 12 years as much winning the bid to host the World Cup.
Garber: Absolutely. I've been working on the presentation. I spend a lot of my time on it. I've been traveling around the world with Sunil and Carlos Cordeiro [the vice-chair of the bid]. It's important. The league has a lot to benefit from, so we're actively involved. I'll break the news now: MLS and Soccer United Marketing are making a nearly $2 million donation to the World Cup bid committee. It will be the largest single financial donation to the World Cup bid.
I can't really give you any specifics for 2011 yet because we still haven't finalized our own thinking as to where it's going to come out. We're focused on ensuring that we have a compelling playoff format that's logical and that is exciting for our fans, teams and broadcasters, and a regular season that feeds into the playoff system in a way that is logical and important.
What OnGoal has done is recognize that their goal is to be not just a soccer team in that market to pattern themselves after what FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have done and create a true sporting club. That's why they re-branded. They could have a lacrosse team, a minor league soccer team and independent sporting programs. They might even invest in other sporting endeavors. And putting that under an umbrella, Sporting Kansas City, gives them more impact in the market. There will always be traditionalists who don't like name changes or might not agree with the brand positioning. For me this is a strategic move that is a brilliant step by OnGoal to make their team more important in the community.
Could we have a single table that feeds into a playoff system? We'll continue to look at that, but I don't believe that its as important to our success as some soccer fans believe it is. They're married to the structure that exists in other parts of the world where there's promotion and relegation, where there's little competition from other sports, where teams are deeply embedded in the community, and we're just not at that point yet in this country.
Promotion/relegation is not happening anytime soon. It would be fun to look at a virtual promotion and relegation where we could really penalize those teams that finish at the bottom and incentivize those teams that finish at the top. That's counter to what has been our commitment to create parity. That parity structure has allowed Dallas and Colorado to get into the Cup final. I believe the fan of every team needs to believe that in the beginning of the season they can win a championship. And our system is structured to provide that. It's proven to be true.