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DC United may have to consider move

By Ronald Blum

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Nov. 10 2011 4:44 p.m. MST

NEW YORK — Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber says D.C. United might relocate to a different site in the Washington-Baltimore region next season because of high operating costs at RFK Stadium.

"We have to aggressively figure a solution out, and that solution needs to be figured out soon. And I am concerned about where this team will be in 2012," he said during a conference call Thursday.

"I'm shocked to say that I believe they could be paying more for their lease in RFK than any other team we have in the league, and there is no doubt in my mind that it is a stadium that is substandard to what soccer fans are able to experience in many other markets in the United States and Canada."

Winner of MLS titles in 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2004, D.C. United has explored building a venue in Baltimore near Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium. For now, Garber said the team must have a lower rent next season.

"If that means that they can't get a new improved lease in D.C., they've got to move to another facility in the region. I will be supportive of that, and in fact will help them do that," he said. "And if it means they can't find a solution in Baltimore, then we'll have to go through a process as we did with San Jose to think about potentially moving the team. I believe that we'll have to go through that process, as well."

San Jose moved to Houston after the 2005 season and was replaced by a new team with the same name for 2008.

On other topics, Garber also said MLS will go to an unbalanced 34-game schedule next year and there is "a very strong possibility" next year's MLS Cup will be played at the site of the team that wins the Supporters Shield for best regular-season record.

He said MLS merchandise sales increased 35 percent this year, when the league's regular-season attendance rose 7 percent to a record 17,872. The league's average viewers for telecasts on ESPN and ESPN2 rose 16 percent to 311,000, according to Nielsen Media Research, and viewers on Fox Soccer Channel increased 26 percent to an average of 70,000. For Spanish-language broadcasts on Telefutura, viewers increase 10 percent to an average of 233,000.

He said the wider interest helped enable a new secondary contract with NBC Sports Network that starts next season.

"At the end of the day, we want to be one of the top soccer leagues in the world. And we want to try to achieve that by 2022," Garber said. "We want to the league of choice, the league of choice for players, for sponsors, for fans."

He said there has been no progress toward finding a venue in New York that would enable the league to add a second team in the area, but that MLS had hired a fulltime person to work on the project and had retained three consultants. He said he anticipates the league will resume talks with the Wilpon family after litigation filed by the trustee seeking to recover money for the victims of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme is resolved.

Garber mentioned Las Vegas and Detroit as possibilities for future expansion and said that although a Florida group was interested, no potential ownership in Miami has emerged.

Garber hopes David Beckham will remain in the league after the 36-year-old English midfielder's $32.5 million, five-year contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy expires at the end of the season. He said MLS teams "for a while were on life support" after he was hired in 1999 and that Beckham's arrival in 2007 was a clear boost.

"David has delivered for us on all aspects of our expectations, both on and off the field," Garber said. "David had a terrific year this year. It's hard to argue that he wasn't one of the more important players on our fields and really contributed to his team and to the league competitively. Off the field he continues to be an important part of what drives some of the popularity of the league both here and around the world. He remains a very popular guy. His presence on the sports pages but also on the people pages continues to grow as opposed to wane here in America, and we benefit by that."

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