Garber: MLS fairer, more stable than Euro leagues
LONDON -- MLS commissioner Don Garber will tell European clubs this week that adopting U.S.-style financial controls could safeguard their futures and make for more competitive leagues.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Garber argued the merits of applying salary caps and spending limits universally -- a case he will present to global sports leaders in London this week.
"I hope to present some of the experiences we have had in the MLS and in other leagues as perhaps, if not blueprint, a guide as European football starts looking at financial fair play," Garber said in a telephone interview ahead of this week's "Leaders in Football" conference. "That is the key driver to the stability that exists in our major leagues -- and there is tremendous stability in American sport.
"I'm not so sure that same stability exists in football around the world."
The Union of European Football Associations already has taken steps to clamp down on spending, fueled by debt, at leading European clubs -- notably Manchester United and Real Madrid.
UEFA's new rules would require clubs to break even and spend only what they earn from soccer-related income such as ticket sales and broadcast contracts.
In the MLS, players contracts are signed centrally and each team is subjected to a $2.3 million salary cap. A designated player, such as England midfielder David Beckham of the Los Angeles Galaxy have only $415,000 of his salary count against the cap.
"We tend to be very sophisticated about the business of sport and that sophistication has led to great success," Garber said. "The rest of the world tries to look at it to get a better understanding of sport, particularly as European football continues to (grapple) with the wealth gap. We still remain a niche sport and we have to make sure we are managing our business to be financially viable and long-term success is the key goal -- that may or may not be the same objective that exists in Spain.
"If we don't manage our business very conservatively there is a fear we can go out of business and I'm not so sure they are faced with those issues in other parts of the world. The issue really is: Is it fair? That fairness is what drives the passion of sport. I think it's really smart for European football to start thinking about that."
There have been six different winners of the MLS since its inception in 1996, compared to three different Premier League champions in the same time span.
"We believe to our core that every fan wants to believe that when the season starts they have the tools, the capability, the resources to compete so they can dream about their team winning a championship," Garber said.
In Europe's recent offseason, Madrid spent more than $355 million on the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and others, while Manchester City spent around $200 million in a bid to win its first championship since 1968.
"I am just astounded how quickly teams can turn their fortunes around by spending more money," Garber said. "I question overall on a global basis whether that makes economic sense, but in those countries the relationship those teams have with the governments, the corporate community and the banking community is just so different that I think they are playing by different rules."
Serving as a warning shot for Garber of the perils of unchecked spending sprees is how the previous attempt to spread soccer in the U.S. collapsed amid debt in 1984.
So Garber is happy to let American businessmen lavish their dollars on European teams rather than splurging on the domestic game, creating an imbalance in the competition.
"As a person who manages a sports league who is very focused on ensuring that we remain financially viable so we remain in business that's not a system that could work here," Garber said. "It would clearly create an arms race of spending that would clearly put MLS out of business as it did with the North American Soccer League in the early 80s.
"When the New York Cosmos spent 10 or 20 times as much as any other team and they had the best players in the world, that was certainly not good for the development of football in America."
But the more cautious MLS -- founded after the 1994 World Cup in the U.S. -- is thriving, Garber maintains, with attendance rising, every match aired live and dedicated soccer stadiums to reach 10 by next year.
So while businessmen such as Stan Kroenke at Colorado and Philip Anschutz at the Galaxy could match the spending of Madrid and others, they are prevented from doing so.
"They don't use that capability as a means to win at all costs," Garber said. "That's just part of the DNA of American sport, revenue sharing, salary caps, the close relationships with our players through collective bargaining and union agreements.
"People use their wealth and resources to create a balance of opportunities ... we are only as strong as our weakest part as opposed to our most successful team."