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MLS Makes Bid for Relevance

Real Salt Lake's owner is Dave Checketts, a former general manager of the New York Knicks and a partner in a National Hockey League team in St. Louis. Checketts has said he would sell the MLS franchise or move the team to another state if Utah officials fail to make a new offer by Saturday.

Despite the questions raised in Salt Lake, Garber is bullish about the league's financial future and its ability to attract millions of fans of soccer in America.

Garber said millions of American viewers watched this summer's World Cup in Germany on three broadcast outlets -- ESPN, owned by Disney (DIS), Univision (UVN), and Fox, owned by owned by News Corp. (NEWS) -- "and we've got to figure out a way to capitalize" on that audience reach.

That potential has so far eluded the MLS. Over the past decade, average attendance at MLS games has dropped, from 17,400 a game in 1996 to 15,100 in 2005.

Last Friday, ESPN announced a new eight-year deal for broadcast rights to MLS games, the first time a network had agreed to pay for the rights to MLS games, Garber said.

John Skipper, the senior vice president and general manager of ESPN.com, declined to say what ESPN paid for the MLS broadcast rights, but "it's in the million and millions of dollars."

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