MLS commish Don Garber: Messi effect ‘cannot be overstated’

League: MLS

Posted on: 09 Dec, 2023 at 12:38 AM

Credit: Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Commissioner Don Garber hailed 2023 as "the most successful season" in Major League Soccer history while saying there are no plans to change current salary-cap restrictions.

Garber spoke about the state of the league -- much of it having to do with one Lionel Messi -- in a news conference Friday before the MLS Cup Final between the Columbus Crew and Los Angeles FC on Saturday.

"The greatest player to ever play the game made MLS his league of choice," Garber said. "Lionel Messi had many options for the next chapter of his iconic soccer playing career. The magnitude of his decision to join MLS cannot be overstated."

Messi signed with Inter Miami in July, leading to a sharp increase in interest not only in MLS, but also in the newly designed Leagues Cup that pitted every club from MLS and Mexico's Liga MX in one midseason tournament.

Messi made his Miami debut during the Leagues Cup and helped the Herons cruise to the title, winning the first trophy in the team's four-year history.

"He's playing in our league. We're now just not part of the global conversation of sports, but one of the biggest stories in the world and certainly one of the biggest stories this summer," Garber said.

"The eyes of the world are now on Major League Soccer because the best player to ever play the game is here and he's succeeding."

That helped MLS set a record for total attendance in one season, almost 11 million fans. The league also experienced success with its new media partnership with Apple, which is a 10-year deal worth $2.5 billion. After years of inconsistent media rights deals, Apple TV streamed every match of the MLS season.

Miami is paying Messi close to $60 million each year, per team owner Jorge Mas, a unique agreement that includes Messi owning a stake in the club.

Would MLS benefit even more if other teams had room to sign some of the biggest soccer stars in the world? Maybe so, but Garber said the league has "no plans" to change any of the current roster rules.

Teams will still have three "designated player" slots, with Garber not interested in raising the limit to four. The designated players count only partly against the salary cap, which is expected to remain at $5.7 million for the first 20 roster spots next year.

Garber also said there are currently no plans for MLS to expand beyond 30 clubs. San Diego's expansion team will be the league's 30th when it joins for the 2025 season.

"We never thought the league would be as large as it is today," Garber said. "So we have no plans to go beyond 30 teams at this point. But we never say never to anything. We've got to look at how all this develops over the next number of years. And if expansion makes sense at the right time, there's a market with a facility and the opportunity for us to manage the competitive format and everything related to that, then we'll certainly consider it."

--Field Level Media