MLS pushes to expand as losses decreasePosted: Friday October 18, 2002 5:40 PM
Updated: Friday October 18, 2002 6:56 PM
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Major League Soccer lost half as much money this season as last and will consider adding as many as four teams by 2006.
Commissioner Don Garber said Friday that the 10-team league's plan is to eventually double in size. Possible cities for the more immediate expansion include Atlanta, Cleveland, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Seattle and Philadelphia.
A 20-team league would create a national television market that MLS has so far lacked. Garber spoke at a state-of-the-game discussion ahead of Sunday's MLS Cup between the New England Revolution and the Los Angeles Galaxy.
He would not give a timetable for expanding to 20 teams, or for when the 7-year-old MLS will turn a profit.
"Our business is in better shape than it ever was," Garber said. "As long as we remain moving in the right direction, our investors will remain interested."
Garber would not say how much the league lost, but court testimony in a recent lawsuit by the players showed that MLS lost $250 million in its first five years. He attributed this year's improvement to increased revenues and the folding of money-draining teams in Miami and Tampa Bay.
Television ratings are down 5 to 6 percent, though Garber cited a 20 percent bump after players returned from the World Cup.
"It's not something we were concerned about, and it's not something ESPN is concerned about, overall," Garber said. "Many markets are beating hockey on local television."
Among the other changes Garber discussed:
"Our competition is at its peak right now," he said.
The league has sold about 50,000 tickets for the title game and hopes to have a record crowd of more than 60,000. Ticket-sellers from New York and Washington have been brought in to handle the extra volume because the neutral site game will be played at the Revolution's home stadium.
The MLS Cup record of 57,431 was set in 1997 when D.C. United beat the Colorado Rapids at RFK Stadium in Washington.
The league also lucked out that the NFL's New England Patriots have a bye this week.
"I don't think we ever thought as we started that we would be
approaching a sellout at Gillette Stadium," Garber said, though he
added there were no plans to stop scheduling the championship at a
neutral site. "You can't expect this every year, but it's an
exciting time for us."