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MLS Makes Bid for Relevance

On Saturday night, I will attend the game between Real Madrid and Real Salt Lake.

Win or lose, MLS Commissioner Don Garber hopes such high-profile games can elevate the stature of the MLS, which has lost more than $350 million in the past decade.

Garber points to recent business announcements, and predicts the 10-year-long money slide will end. He says that with the marketing strategy of the MLS, along with a new broadcast partnership with ESPN, more American sports enthusiasts than ever will be exposed -- and begin to appreciate -- soccer, the world's most popular sport. The 2006 World Cup, in which Italy defeated France, attacted a sizable TV audience in America.

Real Salt Lake, which joined the MLS in 2005, has threatened to leave the city because local elected officials recently refused to invest $35 million in taxpayer money toward building the team a 20,000-seat soccer stadium. The team plays at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium, a 45,000-seat football venue with artificial turf.

Elected officials in Salt Lake City expressed skepticism about the feasibility of the stadium deal. A Real Salt Lake business plan, submitted with the request for the public money, showed the team continuing to lose money, and only making money in the near future by hosting an ambitious schedule of music concerts and selling naming rights. The plan projected season ticket sales doubling from 6,000 this year to 12,500 in 2015.
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