Garber talks MLS expansion, relocation in annual address

TORONTO — Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber said Friday it's "conceivable" a yet-to-be-named expansion team could join the league before a long-approved Miami team finally hits the field.

Speaking at his annual state of the league address on the eve of the MLS Cup game Saturday between Toronto FC and the defending champion Seattle Sounders, Garber also encouraged the city of Columbus to return to negotiations about keeping the struggling Crew in the Ohio capital. Team owner Anthony Precourt has been exploring a move to Austin, Texas, for the 2019 season.

"Like every professional sports league, we never want to relocate a team," Garber said. "And while no decision has been made to relocate the Crew, MLS is supportive of the Precourt Sports Venture's efforts to explore their options in Austin.

"The mayor and city leaders have said to us they will only engage in those discussions if the club's ownership discontinues any ongoing discussions in the city of Austin and that's just not possible at this point," Garber said of civic leaders in Columbus. "So the ball is in the city's court."

Precourt has faced financial challenges in Columbus since buying the Crew in 2013. Garber said the team has been "struggling to resonate" with fans, broadcasters, and sponsors.

"It is among the lowest teams, 20 out of 22, in every measure that matters in pro sports," Garber said. "Average ticket price, average attendance, average revenue, their local television ratings, their local television deal, every aspect that is going to determine whether a team can be viable. As our league continues to move in the right direction, we need to have strong clubs. There's a lot that needs to happen to address those situations."

Last month, MLS chose Cincinnati; Detroit; Nashville, Tennessee; and Sacramento, California, as the finalists for its 25th and 26th expansion teams, set to begin play in 2020.

MLS owners plan to discuss expansion when they meet in New York on Dec. 14.

It's been more than three and a half years since the league formally awarded a team to Miami and an investment group led by former player David Beckham, but the group has struggled to find a stadium site and attract investment from a local owner.

Garber called Miami "the most complicated situation in any market that we've experienced" but said the league remains committed to returning a team to South Florida. The Miami Fusion and Chicago Fire joined MLS as the league's first two expansion teams in 1998, but were contracted along with Florida rivals Tampa Bay Mutiny before the 2002 season.

"I continue to say that we want Miami in the league," Garber said. "It's a large market, a gateway city. There are a lot of values to us having a team down there and I'm very confident that we will get something done."

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