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Apr 25, 2013

MLS plans stadium, team for Queens

NEW YORK -- Major League Soccer hopes to announce plans in four to six weeks for a stadium in Queens for a 20th team.

The league and New York City have been involved in negotiations to build a stadium on a site in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. MLS hopes a team there would start play in 2016 and be rivals of the New York Red Bulls, who play in Harrison, N.J.

"If we get this done, it will be in Flushing Meadow Park. There is no Plan B," MLS commissioner Don Garber told the Associated Press Sports Editors on Thursday.

Garber said the league hopes to have an agreement with New York City, with the New York Mets' ownership group to use the parking lots at Citi Field and with an ownership group that would pay a $100 million expansion fee.

Several hurdles would remain, including New York City's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure and consideration by the local Community Planning Board. The parkland used for the arena would have to be replaced.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg supports the stadium. His term expires at the end of the year, and none of the candidates to succeed him has backed the project.

"I think it was really good that they didn't say no," Garber said. "It shows that there's some political value in not yet taking a stand."

The revived New York Cosmos, who start play in the second-tier North American Soccer League on Aug. 3, are not discussing bidding to become the new MLS team. Garber said he speaks with the Cosmos owners but was dismissive of their efforts.

"The Cosmos are a very storied brand steeped in the past," he said. "Pele is not playing for them anymore, and neither is Franz Beckenbauer."

On another topic, Garber said the sport must deal with a glut of soccer on American television, where MLS has national deals with ESPN, NBC and Univision. NBC takes over the English Premier League next season from Fox, which retains rights for the European Champions League and Europa League. BeIN Sport televises the Spanish, Italian and French leagues, GOL broadcasts the German Bundesliga and ESPN and Univision televises Mexican games.

"There's more soccer on television than any other sport by far," Garber said. "You've got European soccer. You've got Mexican soccer. You've got Major League Soccer. There's way too much soccer on television. I think all of us got to figure out a way to narrow that window so you can get a situation like the NFL has, a couple of days a week, short schedule, something that's very compelling and very targeted."

Garber said each MLS team is now required to invest $2 million annually to develop and fund an academy program for youth players and reserve teams.

"They get the fact that for America to be competitive, our youth need to be better," Garber said. "We've got lots of people that play. Frankly, our youth teams, U.S. teams, are not good enough. We didn't qualify for the U17s, we didn't qualify for the U20s, we didn't qualify for the Olympics."

Garber said MLS, like other leagues, is grappling with the changes of technology and the impact on media, including the shift in readers from print to Internet.

He held a Twitter question-and-answer session during Tuesday's Champions League match between Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and was surprised when he was questioned by U.S. national team and Santos Laguna forward Heculez Gomez, who played for several MLS teams before shifting to the Mexican league in 2009.

"why are my rights still owned by KC (Wizards)? ??" Gomez tweeted, referring to Sporting Kansas City's right of first refusal should he return to MLS.

Garber has been pushed by his staff to embrace new media.

"I probably would have preferred not to have had a public engagement with an ex-player, who frankly we're trying to get back into the league, and then have to discuss contract terms with him on Twitter," he said. "I think technologies will continue to change. What's Twitter today and important today will be something else three years from now, whether it's Reddit or some of these other vehicles that are popping up in nanoseconds and we don't know what it will look like five years from now, and then all of us are going to have to find ways to adapt."

But goal-line technology is not on the horizon for the league because it's too expensive. The estimated cost is about $260,000 per stadium to install, and $3,900 per game to operate.

"It had us take a step back and pause and try to figure out is the value of having goal-line technology worth investing millions and millions and millions of dollars for the handful of moments where it's relevant?" Garber said. "And our view has been that we're going to wait and see how it works out. We certainly don't need to be the first league that has it."

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