MLS Extends Garber’s Deal Through 2014

Major League Soccer’s board of governors has approved a contract extension for Don Garber that will see him continue to lead the league as commissioner through 2014, the Sports Business Journal reports. The four-year deal, which sources said includes incentives and performance goals that could push his total pay to more than $3 million a year, ensures that the man who led the league from the blight of contraction to the boon of expansion will be at the helm in the future as MLS looks to continue its rapid growth.

“Don’s done a phenomenal job and we’re really proud of him,” said Tim Leiweke, the CEO of AEG and chairman of MLS’s board of governors. “The momentum he’s created here is phenomenal. We want to keep this going … and I can’t imagine anyone leading the charge but Don Garber.”

Seattle Sounders FC owner Joe Roth said, “Don is the reason I’m in the league. He’s going to lead us into the future and, in the end, I think he’ll be thought of like Pete Rozelle, as a guy who expanded and grew the league.”

The contract is Garber’s fourth with the league. He signed his first in 1999 after 16 years working at the NFL. His previous contract, which was also for four years, was valued at $2 million a year.

The first three years Garber spent with the league were marred by contraction and financial adversity, but he led the league through a remarkable recovery punctuated by the creation of the league’s lucrative marketing operation (Soccer United Marketing), the development of a rule designed to attract international stars such as David Beckham, the advancement of soccer-specific stadiums, and the addition of nine new owners in a period of just six years.

His most recent accomplishment was spearheading the negotiation of a five-year collective-bargaining agreement that improved player salaries and rights but protected the league’s single-entity structure.

“He’s done everything ownership has asked him to do, and where he’s taken the league from a credibility standpoint is impressive,” said Mike Petruzzi, Fox Soccer Channel’s vice president of sales. “The one thing they need to tackle is the product on the field, and [Thierry] Henry coming over [with the New York Red Bulls last month] … is a step in the right direction.”

Garber’s new contract is the first he negotiated with MLS’s executive committee, which includes Leiweke, Roth, New England Revolution owner Jonathan Kraft, FC Dallas owner Clark Hunt and Toronto FC owner Larry Tanenbaum. He negotiated his previous contracts directly with the chairman of the board.

Negotiations on the extension began nearly a year ago. With the league in the middle of labor negotiations, Garber and the owners agreed to wait to finalize the agreement until after a new CBA was signed. The new contract was signed prior to the FIFA World Cup in June.

Over the next four years, MLS owners expect Garber to improve the league’s television ratings, develop the league’s new media business and develop the league’s quality of play. Leiweke is confident Garber will achieve those goals.

“My expectation is this is not the last time we’ll negotiate with Don Garber,” Leiweke said. “He’s like a good life insurance policy that builds up a significant cash value as time goes on.”

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