Don Garber

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Don Garber
MLS Commissioner Don Garber.jpg
Don Garber at a Seattle Sounders match in 2017.
2nd Commissioner of Major League Soccer
Assumed office
August 4, 1999
Preceded by Doug Logan
Personal details
Born (1957-10-09) October 9, 1957 (age 61)
Queens, New York
Alma mater State University of New York at Oneonta[1]

Don Garber (born October 9, 1957) has served as the Commissioner of Major League Soccer since 1999. Garber is also the CEO of Soccer United Marketing and a member of the United States Soccer Federation board of directors.[2]

Garber has spent his entire career in the sports industry, working in a variety of capacities in marketing, events, television, and league administration prior to becoming MLS commissioner. Before joining MLS, Garber was with the National Football League for 16 years.

Under his leadership, MLS has experienced sustained growth in size and popularity in the United States and Canada. During his tenure, MLS has expanded from 10 to 23 teams and set records for attendance and broadcast revenue.[3]

In addition, the league has seen significant increases in every metric – including franchise valuations, attendance, sponsorship, and digital and social media engagement. MLS ranks sixth among global soccer leagues in average game attendance.[4]

Garber has been selected by SportsBusiness Journal as one of the sports industry’s most powerful executives every year since 2005. In 2016, he was 19th on the list.[5] In 2016, SportsBusiness Journal presented MLS with its award for League of the Year.[6] Garber has received numerous other industry honors, and in 2011 was named by the Los Angeles Times as one of the top sports commissioners. He has received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from both Montclair State University and the State University of New York. Garber was also inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame at his alma mater, SUNY Oneonta. Garber was elected into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2016, but deferred his enshrinement until 2018.[7][8]

National Football League[edit]

Garber spent 16 years with the National Football League, finishing his tenure as the senior vice president/managing director of NFL International, where he oversaw all aspects of the NFL's business outside the United States, including the NFL Europe League. Garber began his career at NFL Properties in 1984 as a marketing manager and became the League's director of marketing in 1988. In 1992, he was appointed the NFL's senior vice president of business development and was responsible for a variety of television, special event and marketing activities.[9]

MLS commissioner[edit]

Garber was appointed as Major League Soccer commissioner on August 4, 1999, succeeding Doug Logan. One of his first moves as commissioner was to bring the league more in line with the international standard, eliminating the shootout and having the referee keep the time on the field.[10] In 2004, MLS also eliminated overtime and the three-plus-one substitution rule used since the league's inception. This enabled teams to substitute three field players as well as an additional goalkeeper. "This decision reflects our focus on continuing our alignment with the world's game," said Garber at the time.[11]

MLS growth[edit]

Garber has emphasized gradual, sustained growth of the league over decades rather than attempting grandiose moves to win headlines. Before Garber came into the Commissioner's office, the league had only one team in its own stadium, Columbus Crew SC, whose Mapfre Stadium was built by Lamar Hunt in 1999.

Garber speaking to fans prior to the opening match of the 2007 MLS season

On Dec. 7, 2001, Garber met with club owners at the Colorado ranch of Philip Anschutz in order to establish a plan to ensure the league’s survival. Among the concepts agreed upon was building soccer-specific stadiums; establishing what would be known as Soccer United Marketing – an agency designed to manage soccer content in the U.S.; and pursuing (and ultimately winning) broadcast rights to the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cups. The entire summit led by Garber at the Anshutz ranch is regarded as a critical moment in the eventual rise of MLS.[12]

Soccer-specific stadiums[edit]

Following Columbus Crew SC's lead, and after the summit at Anshutz’s ranch, MLS clubs soon began building soccer-specific stadiums. The new venues enhanced the game-day experience for fans and granted teams full operating control of the stadiums and greater shares of stadium revenue.[13]

In 2003, the "cathedral of American Soccer," the Home Depot Center (now known as StubHub Center), was built to house the Los Angeles Galaxy, and both senior national teams. Four more soccer-specific stadiums were built by the start of the 2007 MLS season. Ten years later, 17 of the league's 22 clubs were playing in soccer-specific stadiums or venues built or renovated with soccer in mind.[14] Three more soccer stadiums (for LAFC, DC United, and Minnesota United) are under construction and will debut within the next two years.[14]

Soccer United Marketing[edit]

Soccer United Marketing (SUM), one of the game-changing ideas borne out of Garber’s meeting with club owners at the Anshutz ranch, was established in 2002 and manages all sponsorship, licensing and advertising sales for MLS and other premier soccer properties in North America, including US Soccer and the Mexican National Team.

SUM’s first deal was the purchase of the English-language rights to the 2002 and 2006 World Cups for $40 million and to have the games broadcast on ESPN, splitting advertising revenue with the network. A decade later, FOX Network paid more than ten times that amount for the same rights.[15]

SUM continues to increase its partnerships. In 2016, the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) selected SUM to market and service its worldwide sponsorship rights.[16] Today, SUM is valued at more than $2 billion.[17]


Through a detailed and comprehensive expansion process, Major League Soccer grew under Garber’s leadership from 10 teams in 2003 to 23 teams in 2018. The league’s plan is to expand to 28 clubs in the coming years.[18] The cost of expansion clubs has risen steeply during this period. Toronto FC paid an expansion price of $10 million in 2006. The cost for teams to join MLS in its next wave of expansion is a reported $150 million.[19]

Club valuation[edit]

As the league has expanded and established a footprint across North America with successful clubs in Seattle, Portland, Toronto, New York and Atlanta, among many others, team valuations have soared.

When Forbes first released valuations of MLS clubs in 2008, the average team value was $48 million. In 2017, Forbes reported that the average value of a MLS club was $185 million – a 400 percent increase in nine years.[20]

Designated Player rule[edit]

At the conclusion of the 2006 season, MLS created the Designated Player Rule, or "Beckham Rule.” The rule enables clubs to sign up to three players whose total costs exceed the maximum salary budget charge.[21]

Garber stated that fan research was one of the driving forces behind the decision to institute the Designated Player Rule. Garber and the league's owners also acknowledged that MLS needed additional "marquee" players to boost interest and the long-term strength of the league in a quicker fashion. The rule made it possible for clubs to an international icon like David Beckham with the LA Galaxy in 2006, or current stars like Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco of Toronto FC, to larger contracts.

The strategy for signing Designated Players has evolved in recent years. Whereas clubs were more likely to use the rule to sign older, brand-name stars from Europe toward the perceived latter stages of their careers, teams began to utilize it to acquire younger, rising stars. For example, Seattle won MLS Cup in 2016 in part behind the strong play of 26-year-old midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, who was signed as a Designated Player.[22]

When Atlanta United FC joined MLS in 2017 as an expansion club, its Designated Players were 23-year-olds Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez, and 22-year-old Hector Villalba.[23]

Youth academies[edit]

The implementation of high-level player development initiatives has been a hallmark of Garber’s stewardship of the league. In 2006, the league mandated the creation of youth development systems and declared that any player developed by a team could be signed by that team without the player having to go through the MLS SuperDraft. In 2010, MLS required each of its teams to establish youth amateur programs separate from the pro club. Players registered for at least 24 months in an MLS youth program became eligible to sign a pro contract with that team without entering the SuperDraft.

With a true foundation in place after a decade, homegrown players like the New York Red Bulls’ Tyler Adams, FC Dallas’ Kellyn Acosta, Seattle’s Jordan Morris, and LA Galaxy’s Gyasi Zardes have emerged. Smaller-market clubs like Sporting KC have been able to develop their own stars from local communities.[24]

And in 2018, the Under-18 club of FC Dallas proved how far it had come in a relatively brief time by winning the Super Group division of a tournament over the academy teams of top international clubs.[25]


MLS expanded into Canada midway through Garber’s tenure. Toronto joined the league in 2007, Vancouver in 2011 and Montreal in 2012 and all established successful MLS clubs.[21]

The league has signed multiple, long-term broadcast agreements with Canada’s sports networks. In January, 2017, MLS extended its deal with TSN for five years and signed a new five-year contract with the French language network TVA Sports. This was in the wake of a banner year for Canadian teams in MLS in 2016, as Toronto FC defeated the Montreal Impact in the Eastern Conference Final.[26]

In 2017, the league enacted a major change in policy. A limited number of Canadians would now be counted as domestic players. Previously, Canadian players only counted as domestic in MLS if they played for one of the three Canadian-based franchises. The change was part of a collaboration with the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and executives from the three Canadian teams to improve youth development for Canada. Another aspect of the collaboration was a Canadian-specific Generation Adidas program to improve development of young players. The league and CSA work together to identify Canadian players who could be signed to contracts and made available in the MLS SuperDraft.[27]

Media rights deals[edit]

As MLS has grown in scope and popularity, the league’s media rights deals have seen major increases. In 2014, the English-language rights to MLS and U.S. Soccer matches were sold to ESPN and FOX for $75 million per year for eight years. Univision won the Spanish-language rights for $15 million a year. The combined average rights fee of $90 million per year for eight years for ESPN, FOX and Univision represented a 500 percent increase from MLS’ previous broadcast deals, which averaged $18 million per year.[28]

MLS also signed new international TV agreements in 2015, including deals with Sky Sports, Eurosport and Globosat.[29]

In 2017, MLS sold rights to league games to networks in India, Australia and New Zealand. In total, MLS matches can be seen in more than 170 countries.

MLS has also been at the forefront of innovation in media among global sports leagues. In 2017, Facebook signed a deal with MLS and Univision to stream at least 22 matches during the regular season and exclusively stream 40 “Matchday Live” shows with highlights and analysis. The games are streamed on the Facebook page of Univision Deportes and the shows are available on MLS’ Facebook page.[30]


Furthering the league's financial well-being is the landmark decision to be the first professional sports league in North America to allow sponsor's names on the front of jerseys. Real Salt Lake signed the first agreement with XanGo in 2006 for an estimated $4–5 million over 4 years. Teams now generate multimillion-dollar sponsorships for their jersey-front sponsorships. Most jersey-front sponsorships run between $1 million – $5 million per year.

In addition, major brands such as Coca-Cola, Heineken, Audi, Johnson & Johnson, Continental Tire, All-State, and Kellogg’s have signed league-wide sponsorships in recent years.[31]


During Garber's tenure, ownership has been dramatically diversified. In 2001, there were just three investor-operators in the league: Philip Anschutz's Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) controlled six teams, Lamar Hunt's Hunt Sports three teams, and Robert Kraft one team. When AEG sold its remaining interests in Houston Dynamo in 2015, the then 20-team MLS became for the first time a league without multiple-team operators.

Garber champions “diversity of thought” among club owners in the current era of Major League Soccer. They range from Atlanta United FC owner Arthur Blank, the founder of Home Depot; NYCFC ownership groups City Football Group (which also owns Manchester City of the Premier League) and the New York Yankees; Brazilian businessman Flavio Augusto da Silver, who owns Orlando City SC; entrepreneurs Merritt Paulson (Portland Timbers), Andrew Hauptmann (Chicago Fire) and Anthony Precourt (Columbus Crew); and Seattle Sounders owners Adrian Hanauer, Joe Roth, Paul Allen, and Drew Carey.[32]

Among the owners of Los Angeles FC, which began play in 2018, are majority owners Larry Berg, Brandon Beck and Bennett Rosenthal, Magic Johnson, movie studio CEO Peter Gruber, U.S. Soccer icon Mia Hamm Garciaparra, and actor Will Ferrell.[33]

Garber detailed his view of the league’s quality of ownership in a 2013 interview with Sports Illustrated: “It is about expanding our geographic footprint, trying to have more and more people on a national level engaging in soccer generally and Major League Soccer specifically. It’s about diversity of thought around our board table and having more committed investors. It’s about more jobs for players and administrators and all those other things that make Major League Soccer more valuable.”[34]

Influence in sports business[edit]

Don Garber has been ranked by Sports Business Daily as one of the 50 most influential people in the U.S. sports business every year since 2005.[35]

Year Rank Change Comments
2017 17 Rise +2 Oversaw record-breaking launch of Atlanta United and significant renewals with Adidas and Fanatics.[36]
2016 19 Fall -1 MLS continued its exponential growth.[37]
2015 18 Rise +1 Obtained new media rights deal.[38]
2014 19 Rise +3 Oversaw lucrative new TV deals, record attendance, and expansion.[39]
2013 22 Rise +6 Oversaw expansion, with new teams paying league record expansion fees.[40]
2012 28 Rise +2 Oversaw two straight years of record attendance growth.[41]
2011 30 Rise +4 Oversaw nationwide expansion, attendance growth, and a TV deal with NBC Sports.[42][43]
2010 34 Fall –1 Handled collective bargaining negotiations with the players union.[44]
2009 33 Fall –1
2008 32 Fall –5 Attracted additional owners to MLS and grew the SUM agency.[45]
2007 27 Rise +9 Became more assertive as league commissioner instead of deferring to the team owners.[46]
2006 36 Rise +9 [47]
2005 45 Rise [48]

MLS W.O.R.K.S.[edit]

In 2007, Garber formed MLS W.O.R.K.S, the league's community outreach initiative, dedicated to addressing important social issues affecting young people throughout America and Canada.[49]


Garber is married, has two adult children and lives in Montclair, New Jersey. He serves on a variety of professional and philanthropic boards, including the Committee for Club Football at Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). He is Vice President of Hope and Heroes, an organization raising funds and creating programs for pediatric cancer patients at the New York Presbyterian Hospital.[50]


  1. ^ "The Official Website of the SUNY Oneonta Red Dragons".
  2. ^ "Chatting with the Don of MLS". March 17, 2011.
  3. ^ Baxter, Kevin (2016-03-07). "MLS Commissioner Don Garber isn't celebrating triumphs; he's too focused on the future". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-09-13.
  4. ^ Smith, Chris. "MLS Kicks Off 2017 Season With New Sponsorship From Kellogg's". Forbes. Retrieved 2017-09-13.
  5. ^ "50 Most Influential: No. 19 — Don Garber". Retrieved 2017-09-13.
  6. ^ "Sports Business Awards: MLS Wins Sports League Of The Year". Retrieved 2017-09-13.
  7. ^ "Brandi Chastain, Shannon MacMillan and Don Garber Elected to National Soccer Hall of Fame Class of 2016".
  8. ^ "FIVE MEMBERS OF 2018 CLASS OF THE NATIONAL SOCCER HALL OF FAME ANNOUNCED". US Soccer. May 31, 2018. Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  9. ^ Inc., M. Shanken Communications,. "The Soccer Don | News & Features". Retrieved 2017-09-13.
  10. ^ [1], additional text.
  11. ^ "MLS: End of overtime leads several rule changes for 2004". Retrieved 2017-09-13.
  12. ^ "SoccerAmerica - MLS: Showdown at the AEG corral 12/07/2001". Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  13. ^ Smith, Chris. "Major League Soccer's Most Valuable Teams". Forbes. Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  14. ^ a b "Strength of MLS evident in stadium lending". Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  15. ^ Longman, Jeré (2011-10-21). "Fox and Telemundo Win U.S. Rights to 2018 and 2022 World Cups". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  16. ^ "CONCACAF agrees deal with Soccer United Marketing". Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  17. ^ "Major League Soccer's Most Valuable Teams". Retrieved 2017-11-02.
  18. ^ "MLS expansion: An in-depth look at the many bids for the league's next four clubs". Sports Illustrated.
  19. ^ "Buying a New Major League Soccer Team Now Costs $150 Million". 2016-12-15. Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  20. ^ Burns, Mark J. "MLS Records Banner Year In 2016, Cements Position Among Top U.S. Pro Sports Leagues". Forbes. Retrieved 2017-11-02.
  21. ^ a b Wahl, Grant. "15 Years of The Don: Under Garber, MLS stayed afloat, has taken strides". Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  22. ^ Sciaretta, Brian (2016-12-09). "M.L.S. Is Bypassing Big Names for Big (and Young) Talent". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  23. ^ Straus, Brian. "MLS shifts from 'retirement league' stigma with new DPs". Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  24. ^ "Absent high-dollar transfers, Sporting KC focuses on youth academy to develop future stars". kansascity. Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  25. ^ "FC Dallas secures its first Dallas Cup". SportsDay. 2017-04-16. Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  26. ^ "MLS Announces Five-Year Deals With Canadian Broadcasters TSN, TVA". Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  27. ^ "Some Canadian players granted domestic status in MLS; Generation adidas Canada created". The Province. 2016-11-30. Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  28. ^ "MLS's big play". Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  29. ^ "Sky Sports lands four-year deal for MLS broadcast rights". Reuters. February 25, 2015. Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  30. ^ "Facebook signs soccer live-streaming deal with MLS, Univision". Reuters. March 10, 2017. Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  31. ^ Smith, Chris. "MLS Kicks Off 2017 Season With New Sponsorship From Kellogg's". Forbes. Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  32. ^ Parker, Graham (2014-03-26). "Commissioner Don Garber on the Young Guns of MLS Ownership". Grantland. Retrieved 2017-11-02.
  33. ^ "Will Ferrell announced as LAFC part owner". Retrieved 2017-11-02.
  34. ^ Straus, Brian. "Q&A (Part I) with Commissioner Garber: A small-market final, expansion, NYCFC & more". Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  35. ^ Don Garber, MLS Soccer. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  36. ^ "50 Most Influential: No. 17 — Don Garber", Sports Business Daily, December 11, 2017.
  37. ^ "50 Most Influential: No. 19 — Don Garber", Sports Business Daily, December 5, 2016.
  38. ^ "50 Most Influential: No. 18 — Don Garber", Sports Business Daily, December 7, 2015.
  39. ^ "50 Most Influential: No. 19 — Don Garber", Sports Business Daily, December 8, 2014.
  40. ^ "50 Most Influential: Don Garber", Sports Business Daily, December 9, 2013.
  41. ^ "50 Most Influential: 21-30", Sports Business Daily, December 10, 2012. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  42. ^ "50 Most Influential: 21-30", Sports Business Daily, December 12, 2011. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  43. ^ "MLS' Garber climbs on Sports Business influential list", DC United, December 12, 2011. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  44. ^ "Garber and Blatter Make Top 50 Sports List", Prost Amerika, December 13, 2010. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  45. ^ "50 Most Influential, 31-40", Sports Business Daily, December 15, 2008. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  46. ^ "GARBER TABBED AS 27TH MOST INFLUENTIAL PERSON IN US SPORTS", WV Hooligan, December 20, 2007. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  47. ^ "The 50 most influential people in sports business 2006", Sports Business Daily, December 18, 2006. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  48. ^ "Bodenheimer Named Most Influential Person In Sports Business", Sports Business Daily, December 21, 2005. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  49. ^ "Don Garber Unveils "MLS WORKS" Cause-Related Program". Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  50. ^ "Don Garber - MIT Sloan Analytics Conference". MIT Sloan Analytics Conference. Retrieved 2017-09-14.

External links[edit]