MLS commissioner Don Garber is missing a big trick in developing the league

Steve Brenner 11:00 31/07/2017
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Paulo Maldini (c) is co-owner of Miami FC with Riccardo Silva, whose TV deal was rejected.

Riccardo Silva is a clever man. The Italian, who made his millions selling TV rights, likes rustling a few feathers.

Ever since he teamed up with old friend Paolo Maldini to take charge of Miami FC, who play in the second tier of US soccer, Silva has attempted to break the stranglehold of MLS and force commissioner Don Garber to think outside of the box.

When his side in South Florida began three years ago, he told me about his vision for the club, how the open structure in NASL and assimilation with the rest of the soccer world would eventually make it a far more attractive proposition for owners.

MLS has a different transfer window, salary caps and restricted designated player spots. In truth, NASL has struggled financially with clubs folding and others finding it tough to attract decent crowds.

Yet his bugbear has been something Garber and the cosy club of franchise owners will never agree to: promotion and relegation. The single entity structure of MLS means everyone gets a piece of the pie.

All kits are made by adidas. All sponsorship and TV revenues are shared. Everyone is happy while allowing underperforming teams to sleepwalk through seasons knowing the cash will keep coming.

Franchise costs have now increased to $150 million with cities queuing up to join the party. That, though, won’t last forever.

Riccardo Silva

Riccardo Silva.

MLS have 24 teams next season following the introduction of a new LA side. One the limit – around 28 franchises – is hit, MLS will lose their most lucrative income stream in the shape of franchise fees.

Enter MP & Silva media group with a $4 billion offer to take control of the TV and media rights ($400m a year over 10 years) and introduce a pyramid system akin to England which would see movement up and down the divisions.

“I believe that MLS would be the major beneficiaries of an open, meritocratic system because it would stimulate greater fan interest, excitement, quality and engagement in the domestic game,” Silva wrote.

With the current TV deal not expiring until 2022 and with an option for the likes of ESPN and Fox to renew, the offer was, at best, theoretical. Naturally, MLS declined. That was always going to happen.

Too many millions have been invested into MLS for the owners to want to risk losing large chunks by dropping out of a top flight. They’ve always negotiated their own media rights, too.

Yet the timing from Silva, who has been a constant critic of the MLS structure, was brilliant. For the past two weeks, the now annual International Champions Cup tournament has been taking place in the United States with thousands of fans clamouring to see the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Manchester City.

I was at El Clasico in Miami on Saturday night and despite only being a friendly, the build up, the match itself, the atmosphere and the excitement generated was quite something.

Barcelona fans prepare for Clasico.

Barcelona fans prepare for Clasico.

Even Spurs v Roma in New York earlier in the week was played in front of a rarity at Red Bull Arena – a full house. The overly paranoid MLS fans have been predictably grumbling about the best players in the world from some of the biggest teams stealing their thunder.

Yet 65,000 fans paying upwards of $500 is emphatic proof, if needed, that soccer sells in the US. How MLS would love such exposure.

Seattle Sounders owner Merritt Paulson called for these kind of matches to be banned. Nonsense. They are meaningless yet meaningful. Soccer in the US needs all the help it can get and that’s why Silva’s proposal was so interesting.

MLS TV figures and attendances remain average but their teams relevance in their respective markets is minimal, especially in major media markets like Los Angeles and New York.

Garber’s hopes of his baby growing up into a elite world league remain fanciful. So why not shake it up? Do something different which would tap into the fervent soccer scene operating below the NASL and MLS.

There are new clubs sprouting up and the dream of working their way up to the top would generate interest in a sports scene where promotion and relegation are dirty words. It would be a fresh, brave, bold move. And one which sadly will never happen.

MLB

Aaron Judge

Aaron Judge.

Aaron Judge will think twice the next time he celebrates with the bench after smacking a homer.

The Yankees slugger has been a smash hit but last week he took a hit himself – and lost half a tooth in the process.

Amid all the excitement of bashing another his 33th home run of the season in the 6-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, he went crazy with his pals and smashed his mouth into Brett Gardner’s helmet. Judge was okay.

His front tooth however, wasn’t. A trip to the dentist followed and within the flash, or smash, of an eye, he was back at home plate doing what he does best.

“He got me pretty good,” said the gap toothed 6-foot-7 powerhouse. “Obviously we’re very relieved,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I’m sure it was a somewhat of an uncomfortable night for him last night.”

The agony however goes on. “I’m sure the ribbing will continue for a number of days. This will not stop after today, “ added Girardi with a smile, his own teeth fully intact.

NFL

The New York Jets are usually in the news for being absolutely hopeless. But they’ve created their own slice of history this summer by handing a coaching role to Collette Smith – the first woman to ever be involved with the Jets playing staff.

The 44-year-old has bagged an internship for the summer, helping out Dennard Wilson with the defence.

She becomes the third female to land a coaching spot in the NFL – Jen Welter did a similar summer stint with the Cardinals in 2015 while last year, Kathryn Smith was a quality-control coach for the whole season with the Buffalo Bills.

She will have her work cut out but no matter – Smith is living the dream. Growing up in Queens, she was a fully-paid member of the Gang Green and spent three years playing for the New York Sharks.

A knee injury ended her career but Smith has a keen eye for the game after watching the players being put through their paces.

It’s unclear if the contract will extend past the start of this season but it’s yet another good move by the NFL who need to show some positive, forward thinking ideas as the concussion scandal continues to shame the sport.

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