MLS commissioner Don Garber met with media at halftime of the Sounders' opener against Montreal last night.
Considering he had given his "March to the Season" press conference just days before there wasn't really much knew to ask, except for the obvious local question about the league's efforts to trademark "Cascadia Cup," the supporters-created round-robin competition between Seattle, Portland and Vancouver. So, that dominated the Q&A session ... apparently beyond Garber's use for the topic.
Some highlights from the first half of the interview:
First request for comment on Cascadia Cup trademark issue: “As I said over the last couple of days: We didn’t go about that the right way. I think our intention was good, but we could’ve executed it a lot better. Our goal is to do what we can to try to protect how that tournament is managed. It does involve our teams. We do understand it came way before we were around; but the implication of its misuse could have a real negative effect on our clubs that participate. We’ve had two meetings with the Cascadia Cup Council via telephone. They were productive. We haven’t reached an agreement yet; but I’m very confident we’ll be able to reach an agreement that’ll make sense for the Cascadia Cup Council, for the fans, for the league and our clubs. So I’m actually quite optimistic. Next time we’ll probably go about a process like that a little bit differently.”
Will 2014 MLS schedule be like this year's but with home/road reversed, or might it be tweaked to balance Cascadia Cup round-robin 3 home/3 away: “It’s too early for me to speculate on any of that. ... I don’t think that we are ready to even talk about what our schedule would look like next year. And it’s probably not something that we would exclusively talk to the supporters about. It’s buildings, it's the rest of our schedule, it’s the impact of our broadcast partners, so it’s too premature to talk about that.”
On fans holding Cascadia Cup trademark: “Well, it’s their trademark. It’s not our trademark. So our goal is by meeting and talking about what our concerns are, that we could have a mutual agreement on what’s best for that tournament. I follow all of the Twitter comments and all of the social buzz; there is a view that we should just stay away from it. That’s not really fair. At the end of the day it does involve our teams, it does have implications if it’s misused, and I think the leaders of the council understand that. The people that we spoke to were professional, they were well-trained. Many of them -- if not most of them -- were attorneys. They understood our concerns about the potential misuse of the trademark. But it’s theirs, and we’re hopeful to continue to talk to them and see how it can be effectively managed.”
If MLS is pursuing ownership of the trademark: “What we’re trying to do is have a conversation to reach an agreement so that we don’t have to do that.”
If trademark is theirs, can you have influence on how it’s run without legally contesting ownership: “Again guys, it’s not really necessary to get into a legal debate. Intellectual property law is complicated. At the end of the day what we want to do is to insure that that tournament, which involves our clubs, and is clearly important to our fans and to the league, is managed properly; and we have confidence based on our discussions that we will be able to reach an agreement that will make sense. But we have not made a decision to drop our pursuit of the trademark at this point, but we’re confident that our continued discussions will be productive, and in a positive way -- Very confident about that.”
Were you surprised at the passion on the topic: “I was surprised about it. That’s probably why we didn’t think about going about it differently. This is new ground for a professional sports league where you have groups of fans that care so much that they create tournaments like this and have other things that are very important to them as ways that they connect with their clubs. So, it’s new grounds.”
Which led to... “You’ve got to have another question. It’s not that important. It really isn’t. It’s the start of the season. We had an unbelievable year, we just announced a 10-year plan to be one of the top leagues in the world, and all you guys want to talk about is the Cascadia Cup.”
(For better or worse, the topics switched here.
How proud of are that the league is now as old as the old NASL was before folding: “Certainly soccer in America and Canada has developed quite a bit over the last 18 years, so we’re proud of being the longest running professional league in North America. We’ve just laid out a big plan to be one of the top leagues in the world in 10 years. We’ve got a lot of things that we want to do to be able to achieve that. A lot more investment will be required, a lot more development of players, and facilities, and new teams. But we feel pretty good about where we are.”
On bringing younger European players to MLS: “It’s never a matter of convincing people to come at a particular age. You've got to work with those players that have interest in coming here in a time in their career that make sense for them. Our clubs are not looking to sign older players. They’re looking to sign young players; but it’s got to be something that makes sense for the players with where they are in their careers, and what our financial capacity is.”
On concerns regarding Chivas USA attendance (which turned out to be 7,121 on opening night): “I’m going down to Los Angeles tomorrow. I’m sure it will be a topic in the media scrum that will happen tomorrow. We believe in a second team in Los Angeles. We originally in 2005 came up with this concept of having club that was connected with Mexico. It hasn’t turned out quite the way that we had hoped. I have not seen the final report about the attendance is down there. But certainly if it doesn’t grow beyond what I have heard there ticket sales have been, I would be concerned about that.”
When you say you want to be of the biggest leagues in the world, how important is interim step of becoming the best league in North America or CONCACAF region: “It’s a very good question. It’s very important. We've got to do better in the Champions League. The opportunity for an MLS team to win the Champions league in this region and go to a World Club Championship and compete against some of the best clubs in the world is an important goal. It’s something that we are pushing our clubs to be mindful of and hope that they would take that tournament — which I think is much better-managed with the new leadership at CONCACAF — far more seriously than some clubs have taken it in the past.”
On perhaps moving the calendar year forward so MLS teams are more in-season for CCL quarterfinals: “The calendar discussion is one that is ongoing amongst the media and fans and certainly amongst the league. I don’t know that we would move it just because of the Champions League schedule. This is the earliest we’ve ever started; it’s going to be the latest we’ll ever end. The weather hasn’t been great in a handful of our markets -- I understand it was 20-degrees wind chill in Philadelphia today. So all of these things have to go into the pot to be stirred around, and we’ll hopefully come up with a decision that makes sense with all the things we need to satisfy.”