Messi has brought ‘transformational year’ for MLS: Garber

December 10, 2023

COLUMBUS: Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber says his league has enjoyed a “transformational year” crediting the arrival of Lionel Messi and the broadcast deal with Apple TV for unprecedented interest.

But while he said North America would become the “epicenter” of the game with the World Cup, Copa America and FIFA Club World Cup all coming to the region, Garber acknowledged squeezing in all the club and country competitions was a headache.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber speaks during his State of the League address ahead of the 2023 MLS Cup at Lower. com Field in Columbus on December 08, 2023. — AFP

In his annual “state of the league” address ahead of Saturday´s MLS Cup final between Columbus Crew and Los Angeles FC, Garber said MLS was trending upwards in all key areas. “Lionel Messi had many options for the next chapter of his iconic soccer career. The magnitude of his decision to join MLS cannot be over-stated,” Garber said.

“A World Cup champion, an eight-time Ballon d´Or winner is playing in our league. We´re not just part of the global conversation of sports but one of the biggest stories in the world, certainly one of the biggest stories this summer,” added Garber. Messi´s arrival early in a new 10-year global streaming deal with Apple TV meant “more fans watch MLS games here and around the world than ever before” said Garber, without revealing overall audience figures from Apple. MLS has also seen rising numbers of fans in stadiums across the country with the derby between Los Angeles FC and Los Angeles Galaxy attracting a league record 82,110 to the Rose Bowl on July 4.

Garber said there had been a record of “nearly 12 million fans” at MLS games throughout the year and also hailed the new Leagues Cup, held jointly with clubs from Mexico´s Liga MX, as a “smashing success”.

The tournament in the middle of the MLS regular season was won by Messi and Inter Miami and the World Cup-style format won over my skeptics.

“It was a success on every measure and as with so many things this year went on to exceed so many of our expectations. It is only the beginning. This is a tournament which will continue to grow in scale, in scope and reach in the years ahead,” he said.