By TRAVIS CLARK
TORONTO – MLS commissioner Don Garber addressed various concerns with MLS fans Sunday morning during the 2010 Supporters Summit. Several issues were discussed during a roundtable held with fan representatives from all over the league.
Garber fielded questions from both the crowd of supporters — every team in the league appeared to be represented — and a pair of moderators, Canadian media members Jason DeVos and Nigel Reed.
With Canada taking a frontseat to a number of the discussions, Garber touched on the often-mentioned issue of promotion and relegation in the league, hinted at playoff changes, including the possibility of adding more teams, and some of the challenges facing the league.
"Our biggest challenge today, having grown a lot in our 15th year and feeling good about where we are, is how we take the passion that you folks have taught the general soccer fan about, and how we just continue to grow that and so we have something more special in our stadiums," he said.
As the season concludes this evening, Garber touched on the conference alighment and playoff setup, indicating that the conference format would remain intact in an effort to boost the visibility in each team's market with more trophies available.
"As we continue to be more and more relevant in our markets we need special moments, and that championship trophy and victory was a special moment for [the Rapids]," he said.
However, while the conference final format could live on, Garber hinted that an announcement would be made during tonight's MLS Cup match on television.
"Clearly this concept of having two Western teams in your Eastern Conference final, we're not dummies, we know that's probably not something you want to replicate.
"We will announce a bit on ESPN and TSN2 tonight, a tweak to our system, and that will change it a bit so that we have less of a likelihood of the situation that we have this year. We'll perhaps have more teams qualifying in, maybe even an opportunity for some teams to play into the playoffs," Garber said.
Discussion moved to some of the issues confronting fans across the country — ticket prices, traveling fans, and youth development. Garber announced that the Academy teams of Vancouver, Toronto, and eventually Montreal would be allowed to join and play in the U.S. Soccer Federation Development Academy.
Garber mentioned that one of the biggest concerns facing the league was the security of traveling fans, admitting that the numbers had grown faster than the league could keep up. Stadiums around the nation approach traveling supporters differently, at times displacing season ticket holders, and the commissioner was emphatic that this would be solved.
"We absolutely will establish rules in our stadiums to designate a certain area for traveling fans to be seated," he said. "It was never a problem two years ago. It's a problem or opportunity now, and we've got to manage through that."
As the debate when on, Garber was a asked about both promotion-relegation and switching the schedule around to accommodate the FIFA calender. He didn't dismiss either possibility, but said that both are very far down the road.