Thursday, November 19, 2015

Don Garber, The Wrong Voice

"If you're investing billions and billions of dollars, which we are now at about $3.5 billion invested [in MLS] in twenty years, to build something in Kansas City and they have a shitty season, to think they might be playing in Chattanooga in a stadium of 4,000 people on a crappy field with no fans, makes no sense." - Don Garber talking at "BlazerCon," Saturday, November 14th, 2015

Don Garber, MLS Commissioner, has a deep-rooted misunderstanding of the sport of soccer. At the very essence of it, soccer is a sport open to everyone no matter their means. This is what separates it from other sports out there and why it has become the most popular sport in the world.

There are many out there that can trace the invention of the game back hundreds of years, but the modern game (as we know it, mostly) started forming in the mid 19th century. The Victorian age. Back then two entire towns would gather around one rugby / American type looking ball and kick, fight, throw, knaw, punt and everything in-between to get the ball to the other side of town (okay, oversimplification... still though - for quick, informative read check out The Victorian Football Miscellany).

While the Victorian version of the game is where rugby and American football originated, soccer split and ended up going down a slightly different path. In the 1800's teams could hardly agree on rules let alone the formation of nationwide leagues. Rules were different everywhere.

What wasn't different was the inclusionary way it all started. Every town, city, and village could participate. Because of this, the game exploded in England and beyond to where it is today.

Except here. In the United States. Weird, right? Why is that?

Don Garber's thoughts;

"Promotion and relegation was created in the 1800s," he said. "It was a system that existed because there was no other way that existed to create good competition. They were amateur teams. If you were to create professional football in England or Italy or Spain today, I don't believe you'd have promotion and relegation. We need to create a league that works for the fan base in this market. Nobody looks at the NFL and says it's not working because there's no promotion and relegation."

The game would be nowhere near where it is in the world today were it not for the open systems. England alone has 92 fully professional teams with another seven thousand plus playing in organized leagues.

Every time Don Garber gets a national platform to talk about MLS he turns it into a league history lesson. He does this without fail. In that history he loves to stroke his ego by talking about the bold decisions in the early 2000s to contract a couple teams. He likens it to saving the sport in the US when in reality, the only thing he saved was MLS and their exclusionary system that only benefits the few and not the many.

If you stand it up to other sports in the USA, Garber plays the part of "commissioner" very well. Proud, arrogant, boisterous, untouchable, ignorant and so on. It's what we have in this country (including where they all got it from - pro wrestling). Where this doesn't play is in a global marketplace. Which is the obvious future of sports.

From the NFL attempts to get a foothold in the rest of the world, to the NBA playing games in China to MLB having regular season games in Austrailia - they all want their game to spread all over the globe. It never will though. Not with closed systems.

MLS, and the sport of soccer, has the opposite problem. The rest of the world is ready and waiting already. It's just Garber is going the wrong direction on a clearly lit path.

Soccer has been played in the US for over 100 years and the most played sport in this country for decades. MLS, just like the rest of the professional game here in the US, should be light years beyond where it is now. Don Garber is doing nothing but selling a narrative - and it's insulting.

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