Don Garber: Seeing the Tifo Unfold is 'the happiest moment'
the don garber interview - part 2
Soccerly: I’m going to ask you about two of the most key relationships that you’ve had in your term as commissioner. Firstly with supporters and then with David Beckham. We’ll start with the supporters. How would you characterize your relationship with the ordinary fan?
DG: Well I don’t know if I personally have any personal relationship with the ordinary fan, to be fair. You know I’m a figurehead; as long as I have 1 vote more than 50% approval rating I’m in good shape. I don’t expect in any way that I’ll be winning popularity contests. You just have to go on my Twitter feed to get a sense of that or walk out on the field. That’s the nature of being the leader of an organization where you are going to have a wide variety of constituents. You’re going to have fans, owners, players, administrative folks and you can’t satisfy all of them.
You have to have a vision and you have to have a plan and that needs to be supported by ownership and then you need to go like a bat out of hell and be sure that you’re going to deliver on that plan and don’t worry about whether anybody is going to be buying you a beer. I can afford to buy my own beers.
The supporters are a unique group. I think that is one of the key drivers of the league’s success. We have a special situation with a bunch of young millennial fans who are thinking of their relationship with their local club differently than their parents did who had a relationship with a local baseball team or a local NFL team.
"you need to go like a bat out of hell and be sure that you’re going to deliver on that plan and don’t worry about whether anybody is going to be buying you a beer."
DG (cont): That requires a lot of new thinking on our part and it requires us to have a capacity to be able to accept and understand that supporters are different than the typical North American sports fan. That being said, we have to take responsibility to ensure that our games are safe and welcoming to all; that they are providing an environment that’s going to allow us to continue to grow and succeed and prosper.
I believe that our supporters are by their very nature our most committed fans and they believe until death that MLS is going to be an important part of their life. With that, there is a certain sense of entitlement and we need to recognize that and manage that . We also need to understand that they are also fans and customers and need to act and behave in a way that is appropriate . There’s a special sauce that is required in order to get that right, and we’re learning that as we go along.
Soccerly: When you're in a stadium and you see the tifo unfolding, is there still a worrying moment that it's going to say something that could get the league into trouble?
DG: Interestingly, it is the happiest moment. I am in Providence Park and I’m snapping pictures of the tifo when it comes and I look forward to those moments, and when I see the big opening in Seattle it's so thrilling to me because it shows the passion, but also the independence that those supporters have; to show their
relationship with their team.
At no point do I think it will be inappropriate because I think they understand that having the ability to execute on those displays is a responsibility and we will continue to feed that right in every way we can as long as it’s treated and managed effectively, and so far it has been without any issues whatsoever.
Soccerly: Let’s talk about David Beckham who other than yourself is probably the most pivotal individual in the history of this league. How has the relationship with David changed over the years?
DG: It was a relationship that started as a typical commissioner-player relationship, where David tried to be no different from everybody else. In many ways people would be surprised to know that he was no different than any other player in terms of how he was treated, how he traveled, how he trained.
He really prided on himself on being a good teammate. There was a time where he got suspended and fined for misbehaving and he appealed that. He still got fined and suspended and we didn’t treat him differently than any other player during that time. We’ll treat all of our players equally because that is the only way we’ll
have any credibility.
"It's so thrilling to me because (the tifo) shows the passion but also the independence that those supporters have."
DG: What changed recently was that he is now focused on being an owner and as I’ve said publicly, his acumen and ability to understand the sports business was very surprising and shocking to us all. He’s very smart and very focused. He does a lot of homework and understands the business because he’s been around it for so long and he’s had a lot of commercial relationships. Now we’re dealing with him as a potential owner who will be treated no differently than any other board member in MLS.
Soccerly: Do you read Merritt Paulson’s Twitter feed?
DG: I do.
Soccerly: Has anything shocked you yet?
DG: No, nothing has shocked me. Many of them have disappointed me, and we have spoken about that and I continue to work with him on ensuring that his Twitter feed is a fair representation of who he is and doesn’t necessarily get him in a situation where he’s regretful, and I’m proud that he’s been able to adjust his twitter behavior over the last couple of years.
Soccerly: Last week he got himself into hot water by comparing Seattle fans to people with a mental disability. Did you see that tweet?
DG: I did and we spoke about it.
Soccerly: Is he issuing an apology?
DG: I don’t know about that. If I were him I probably would.
Soccerly: Let's get to the final question. You’ve been at this 15 years and are you still enjoying it?
DG: I am.
Soccerly: No sign of wanting to do something else?
DG: No, this is my passion, my life. It’s been (out of my family), a real life purpose for me. The job is not done yet.
Soccerly: So it is too early to start thinking about your legacy?
DG: No, for sure.
Soccerly: When should we start?
DG: I mean I don’t know, that is not something that I’ve even remotely considered. (laughs)
Soccerly: Who is going to win the World Cup?
DG: I don’t know. If I knew that, I would be running a betting service over in the UK.