The Don Garber hype machine rolled into Montreal yesterday and did what he does best – got the local press talking.
By now, for those that have been observing his circus act, the formula isn’t new — lots of back patting for the owner, combined with lots of kudos to the city and its supporters, all adds up to lots of headlines the next day.
Last week, I shook the trees of the Montreal press to see what was there and lots of opinions fell out about the Impact and if they would have a tough time finding coverage in a Canadiens-crazy city. Some media members, who responded, were critical of the assessment. Others, who cover the game there, agreed completely. The Sports Director of La Presse, Jean Francois Begin, was one of those who disagreed with my column and he’ll be on an It’s Called Football Interview Only this Friday to tell me why I’m off my rocker.
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But, away from the dog and pony show, it was Don Garber’s quiet comments to a group of Montreal Impact supporters, gathered at a pub there that were making the most waves.
While lauding the benefits of Joey Saputo and his soccer specific sports group, Garber openly criticized and expressed legitimate concern for teams in MLS who operate multiple sports franchises under the same banner. By his view, they are not able to solely focus on and properly allocate resources to making soccer successful in their cities.
Those in attendance, including a reporter who recounted much of this to me (and who I trust with such assessments), perceived this diatribe as a direct swipe at Toronto FC and their owners, MLSE.
This, for many, would be completely out of left field given Garber’s repeated applause for Toronto and its ownership over the years. But it has become known in Toronto media and soccer circles that MLS and MLSE have developed frayed tensions over the last year.
A number of organizing missteps on MLS Cup weekend had both sides fuming at one another (and allegedly not talking by the end of it). And more recently, a source within MLS head office described screaming phone calls over how Toronto was mishandling Dwayne De Rosario’s departure (the club was prepared to announce the trade at 2pm during Aron Winter’s usual media scrum, before the details had not been finalized by MLS.)
So, were Garber’s scathing words for ownership groups who operate multiple teams directed solely at Toronto? Maybe. Maybe not. If they weren’t, he had just criticized a large swath of the league in big, bold strokes. (Have a look at a brief table of teams and the teams they own at the bottom of the article.)
Perhaps, and in all likelihood, what Garber was doing was simply stirring the fires of rivalry – downplaying Toronto while building up Montreal. MLS’ hype man has developed quite the shtick these past few years when it comes to meeting with local supporters.
But, given MLS and MLSE’s recent squabbles and that the reporter who was there last night swears (SWEARS) Garber’s comments were more than just a marketing move meant to inflame, I’m left to wonder if the Soccer Don and his circus has soured on Toronto FC and theirs.
A brief list of MLS cities and the teams their owners own
- Columbus -- KC Chiefs and Dallas
- Dallas –KC Chiefs and Columbus
- Houston – 50 per cent owned by AEG, also own LA Kings and UK sports holdings
- New England – New England Patriots
- New York – Red Bull owns four pro soccer teams and several motor sports properties
- Kansas City – minor league basketball team and the ‘Sporting’ model is designed around idea of multiple teams under their banner
- Chivas – Chivas Guadalajara, Saprissa
- Colorado – Avalanche, Nuggets and St. Louis Rams
- Galaxy – LA Kings + 50 per cent of Houston
- Salt Lake – St. Louis Blues
- Seattle - Seahawks