Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber said Saudi Arabia’s big spending on international players won’t hamper his league’s plans for a global push after the arrival of Lionel Messi.
Messi signed for Inter Miami on Saturday, completing his move to MLS, after he turned down a huge offer to move to the Saudi Professional League.
But the Saudi league have already made major moves to bring in the kind of late-career talent that MLS has, in the past, targeted for recruitment.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who was long viewed as a possible MLS target, was the first to move to the Saudi league followed by Real Madrid and France striker Karim Benzema and Brazilian Roberto Firmino, among others.
But Garber said he isn’t worried about the new competition in the market for big-name veterans.
“I’ve seen it happen with China, and I wasn’t concerned about that any more than I’m concerned about what’s happening in Saudi Arabia, it’s quite the opposite,” Garber told a small group of reporters on Sunday ahead of Messi’s unveiling event.
“The fact that we can spread the power and influence of professional football around the world, I think, gives us all who are in emerging markets an opportunity.
“You know, it’s not just about Europe, right? It’s about here. So I’m not threatened by that at all. By the way, it’s just one more thing in this really complicated business that we’re in, and we’ll manage through it, and I think that we’re going to be just fine,” he said.
Although MLS clubs have focused on younger South American recruits in recent years, they have frequently brought in stars near the end of their careers particularly since the arrival of David Beckham to Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007.
Englishmen Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, Italians Andrea Pirlo and Giorgio Chiellini and Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic are among the bigger names to have moved to the North American league.
With Messi signed up, MLS hope that, together with broadcast partner Apple TV, they can bring in revenue by selling subscriptions to the league globally.
Garber said the league, which is already broadcast in Spanish and with some games in French, was considering introducing other languages to broaden the appeal of the broadcasts.
“I think you’ll see more and more multiple languages on Apple. That’s the uniqueness of the technology. We’re looking at launching other languages as early as next year,” he said.
“We launched a new production and we launched it in three languages, which is remarkable. And I think you’ll see more languages in the years to come. I think there will be more opportunity for us to be very, very targeted to specific audiences, whether that’s in Portuguese or other languages. Just hang tight,” he said.
Messi will be the biggest football star to play in the United States since Pele signed for the New York Cosmos, setting off a spending spree from young clubs.
League of choice
But Garber said there was no danger of a similar boom and bust to that which saw the old North American Soccer League (NASL) fold within a few years.
“MLS has an opportunity to continue to be a bigger, broader, more valuable player on the global soccer and football stage. The idea that we are anything remotely close to what the NASL was is so far in the past,” he said.
“The league has significance, it’s got 30 teams, it’s got a valuation of $15 billion. Think about that, $15 billion, that’s the collective value of all of our teams. When I came in it was $250 million.
“So I don’t think that there’s any look back, it now is, what’s the future going to look like?”
Garber said Messi’s decision to move to MLS was proof of the league’s rapid growth.
“You have heard us say that we want MLS to be a league of choice, a league of choice for players, for fans, for partners, and ultimately for investors.
“When you have the best player of all time making Major League Soccer his league of choice, I think it’s a real testament as to where MLS is and where it’s going in the years ahead.”
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