Posted: Friday July 15, 2005 3:41PM; Updated: Friday July 15, 2005 5:43PM
SI.com: So you feel confident about being able to persuade the other owners to spend some more money on players for MLS?
Leiweke: I don't think it's a matter of persuading. We're all in agreement that we want to get better on the pitch, but the question is how we do that. I think that's for the next meeting. So rather than making it a simple issue of spending more money, I think the more important issue is that we all want to increase and improve the quality of play, our product and our players. I don't think it's one simple solution. It'll be a bunch of ideas and solutions.
SI.com: The next board meeting is coming up in Columbus over All-Star weekend next week, right?
Leiweke: I think it's going to get delayed a little bit because we're all going 100 miles an hour right now.
SI.com: Whenever that meeting does take place, what do you want to have come up specifically?
Leiweke: We'll continue what came up at the last meeting. The commissioner, Don Garber, is going to lead us through a continuance of that discussion, and there will be some tangible steps put forward for all of us to consider.
SI.com: Moving on, when the Galaxy hired Steve Sampson as head coach last year, you talked about having high expectations for him. Despite some successes, the Galaxy haven't won on the road in more than a year. How secure is Sampson's job?
Leiweke: That's up to Doug Hamilton as the president of the Galaxy. We own four of these teams, so I try to stay above the fray. But we demand excellence from all our teams. Doug is clearly under the most pressure, because the Galaxy are the model franchise, within the AEG group at least, and we've put more money into them because of the Home Depot Center. So Doug's under an enormous amount of pressure for success, and in turn Doug's coach is going to be under an enormous amount of pressure for success. I think Steve knew that coming here and he relishes that, but you make your judgment on Steve at the end of the year, not mid-year.
SI.com: As for the MetroStars, you said recently you want AEG to pay more attention to that team. Does that mean the MetroStars finally may get their own player who's making more than the league "maximum" salary?
Leiweke: I don't think it's as much about maximum salary or how much we're spending on our payroll. It has a lot more to do with a five- or 10-year vision on and off the pitch on how to make them a more important part of not only the soccer community in the Metro area, but more importantly the sports community there. A lot of this is about facilities, about development and about having players on the pitch who are recognizable to the fans in the Metro area. We need to improve on all three of those fronts, and that's what we're doing.
SI.com: What's your take on the Metros' current stadium situation?
Leiweke: Although we have an extremely good relationship with the New Jersey Sports and Entertainment Commission, we have to find a soccer-specific stadium solution. And I believe by the end of the summer we will have that done.
SI.com: This week the complete list of MLS player salaries came out. Some guys are doing pretty well for themselves, while developmental players are making as little as $11,600 a year. What does that say about where this league is now, salary-wise, and where it needs to go?
Leiweke: Well, one, I don't think the mark of a league should be judged necessarily by what guys are making. I know hockey kids in the East Coast or American Hockey Leagues who are making $20,000 a year. What's more important is, single-entity is the only way to have the economic wherewithal to make this work. I'm actually a proponent of single-entity, and those who speak against it probably don't realize the economics that we deal with on a daily basis. Once they do, I'm sure they'll see that without single-entity we wouldn't have made it this far. Secondly, the solution to a problem is not spending more money for the sake of spending more money. And for that I'd say, look at the NHL and what we had to deal with over the past 16 months.
This has to be a global view of our problems and our solutions. It can't just be pegged to spending more money to get better players. That's not the solution, and if you believe that's the solution then you forget that was the downfall of the NASL. We can't get into the transfer war with Europe. We can't get into retirement contracts with players who are 35 years old who just want to come here and have a vacation. And we can't give up on the single-entity because it's the economic platform that has built this league over the past 10 years to where it is today. That said, we know we have work to do, and all of us combined want to work within the current system on how we improve our product. There's not a disagreement on any of that.
SI.com: So you want MLS to keep the single-entity model for the long term?
Leiweke: Well, I think single-entity is an effective means of balancing out the competition. Don Garber will lead us through these issues, but there has been some controversy even within our quarters about single-entity. There is no controversy with me, and there is no controversy with Phil Anschutz. We're very supportive of single-entity.
SI.com: Beckham came out to L.A. recently to make an announcement about his camp with AEG, and there was a ton of media. You said you want to have Beckham in MLS at some point, and the easy part would be coming up with the money to make it happen. What did you mean by that?
Leiweke: It's up to David to decide ultimately what he wants to do with his career. He has an open invitation if a portion of that decision relates to New York or Los Angeles in Major League Soccer. The way David makes his money does not have to be driven by the pitch. David makes more money today on endorsements in Europe, and clearly if he was in the United States with 280 million people, the upside there is even more dramatic. So there is a way to figure that one out, and that will not be the issue that holds David back from ultimately finishing his career in the United States if that's his decision. So my point is, that's the easy part.
SI.com: Tell me about your big-picture vision for MLS. Once you've achieved what you want to with this league in however many years from now, what do you see?
Leiweke: If within 10 years from today Major League Soccer is not top four and hopefully top two or three in the conscience and the minds and the hearts and the pocketbooks of the sports community in this country, we will have failed. It's the world's most popular sport with the world's most popular athletes, and it is emerging quickly within the United States. I believe we have been given a lot of the ingredients to be successful, and I think in the next 10 years, whether it be our quality of play, our level of play or the kind of players that we put on that pitch, that's our challenge. What you're going to see out of us in the near future is a vision for the next 10 years that will allow us to take ourselves to the next level.