Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Meeting the Don

Commissioner Garber, accepting a Class VI scarf at the DSG Park Opening

Today I was invited by the Rapids to a media lunch with MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Rapids President Tim Hinchey.  Also included were media from, MileHighSports, the Denver Post, and Centennial 38, among others.  There were 7 of us total.  We only had 45 minutes or so of the Commissioner's schedule but it was a chance to have a round table and ask him questions.  Most of the discussion focused on growing the league and youth development.  If you follow the league closely you'll have heard everything Garber had to say on those issues before, but he mentioned the new partnership with the French Football Federation to train our coaches, the supporters culture in Seattle and Portland and how it relates to the newly combined C38, and where the league needs to go to meet its 2022 goal of being one of the top leagues in the world.

I did get to ask him a couple of questions that relate to Colorado.  The first question I asked him was the status of the trademark dispute between C10 and MLS over the Rocky Mountain Cup.

I haven't mentioned this issue here before, so for a quick backstory over the offseason MLS filed U.S. trademarks on all the supporter cups in the league (the RMC, Cascadia Cup, Trillum Cup, etc.).  The only groups to really object were the Cascadia Cup between the 3 pacific NW teams and C10 to protect the Rocky Mountain Cup.  Last summer, after the Subaru sponsorship mess, C10 filed state trademarks on Rocky Mountain Cup in Utah and Colorado but MLS filed for a federal trademark.

Garber admitted to not being up to date on the status of the RMC dispute, being more focused on the more public (and as such, the bigger black eye for the league) Cascadia Cup dispute.  He did say that their goal in filing these trademarks is not to commercialize the cups, but to protect them from being picked up by other groups that would put the league in an awkward position.  The example he used was what if Sports Authority stepped in and trademarked the RMC to sponsor it.  The inference being that Dick's Sporting Goods might have an issue if the Sports Authority Rocky Mountain Cup was being played in Dick's Sporting Goods Park.  I was hoping for a more complete answer than that, but I wasn't expecting one. ;)

The other question I was able to ask him was about the push by a number of vocal fans that MLS should be playing the traditional Western Europe Fall-to-Spring schedule to reach the top level.  Given the forecast for Saturday's home opener calls for blizzard conditions and 6-12 inches of snow I asked him if MLS sees that at all realistic.  He essentially said no, and that the schedule isn't what's holding back the league from growing its fanbase.  Eventually, maybe its possible, but no time soon.

Afterwards I was able to talk to Hinchey one-on-one to ask him to follow up on the media hour last August where he "put his stake in the ground" and declared we would start 2013 with a jersey sponsor.  Clearly that didn't happen and he admitted it and took the blame.  He said its been harder than he expected and referred back to something he said in August, where they had a deal lined up and signed off on, only for the CEO of the company to kill it at the last moment (a source has said the deal was with Molson Coors and it was killed in a bit of political maneuvering between execs of the two former companies).  Because of their ongoing failure he said that they've hired an outside company to help them find a sponsor, and they're widening their scope to beyond Colorado-based companies to national companies that have something to offer Colorado.  He also said that the Western Union team sponsorship, which will be officially announced next week, came out of their attempts to sign them as a jersey sponsor and will amount to the 4th largest sponsorship deal in team history.

He does admit that at this point its almost less about the money and more a credibility issues, which I was happy to hear.  This carrot has been held out there under Hinchey long enough that its starting to become hard to believe that everything else is going as well as they say when they can't get this done.  You can't get up in front of the media and "put your stake in the ground" and then fail to follow through on that without taking a hit.  I don't really care about walking around with a corporate sponsor on my jersey but for me its a bit of the "canary in the coal mine".  If the FO can't get this done, what other opportunities to advance the club are they missing or failing to take advantage of?

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