Don Garber outlines state of MLS heading into 2022

The MLS media-rights deal being negotiated ahead of the 2023 season will eliminate the issue some Atlanta United supporters have had watching games, commissioner Don Garber said in his state of the league address Tuesday.

Speaking to more than 100 journalists through Zoom, Garber said that every MLS game, whether it be local, national, international or out of market, will be broadcast linear or streaming in 2023. He said the league hopes to announce the new rights deal in the first quarter of next year. It will replace the current one that expires after the 2022 season.

Some Atlanta United supporters have had trouble in past years watching regional broadcasts of the team produced and televised by Bally Sports because its local channels aren’t carried by Hulu or YouTube TV.

“Our new package sort of takes a step forward in assuming and accepting the fact that consumers are going to engage in ways without barriers that are specific to gating or considered specific to local markets,” Garber said. “So our package will have every game, including our local games.”

The rights also will include games being played in the new MLS Next Pro league, which Atlanta United 2 will join in 2023. Garber said how those games are produced and if they are provided with one carrier or direct to consumer is still being worked on.

“I’m confident that somebody who’s got a kid that’s playing in MLS Next is going to be able to watch their kid play in a very unique and exciting offering,” he said.

Garber touched on many other areas during Tuesday’s address:

Las Vegas is the front-runner to become the 30th team. It wouldn’t start until at least 2024. The league hopes to announce the team next year. The league is also having discussions with groups in Phoenix and San Diego. Charlotte is joining in 2022 and St. Louis in 2023.

Charlotte is ahead of the season-ticket sales pace set by Atlanta United in its first season. Charlotte recently passed 15,000 in season ticket sales. Atlanta United capped it season ticket sales at 30,000 in its first season because it opened by playing at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium before moving to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Charlottealso is attempting to break Atlanta United’s single-game attendance mark for its franchise-opening game against the L.A. Galaxy on March 5. Atlanta United set the record of 72,548 against the L.A. Galaxy at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Aug. 3, 2019.

Garber doesn’t support ongoing discussions to hold the World Cup every two years, instead of every four years. He said he feels it dilutes the product.

The MLS Under-22 Initiative started last year resulted in more than 40 players being signed. Atlanta United signed three under the initiative: Santiago Sosa, Franco Ibarra and Erik Lopez. The Under-22 Initiative allows teams to purchase players who are 22 years old or younger on a reduced charge to a club’s salary budget.

Garber described the new Leagues Cup, which will feature all of the MLS teams and all of the teams from LIGA MX in 2023, as “March Madness meeting the World Cup.”

MLS announced an update to its league-wide diversity hiring policy Tuesday. Teams are required that the finalist pool for an open sporting position includes two or more non-white candidates, one of whom must be Black. Teams that fail to abide could be fined as much as $50,000 for first offenses, $100,000 fines for second offenses, and more than $100,000 for third offenses or more.