CLASS OF 2018: Don Garber to be Inducted into National Soccer Hall of Fame
FRISCO - Don Garber is often the one doling out congratulations. The current commissioner of Major League Soccer is a leading proponent of soccer in the United States and thus an advocate of those achieving success within it. A quick visit to Garber’s Twitter feed will reveal tweets that typically begin with words along the lines of “Proud,” “Congratulations,” or “Best of luck” aimed at various figures within the soccer world.
But it’s due time that same soccer world congratulate him. Garber, who was technically elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2016, opted to defer his official enshrinement until this year’s Hall of Fame Weekend at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas to honor Lamar Hunt .
Garber was named commissioner of Major League Soccer in 1999, and in the nearly two decades under his guidance, the league has grown in various ways. There were only 10 teams in the MLS when Garber took over, compared to the 26 clubs that now compete across the United States and Canada. He has also played a large part in bolstering the league’s visibility and popularity by negotiating long-term broadcast deals with ESPN, FOX, and Univision along with major broadcasters in Canada, Europe, Asia and South America.
Before stepping into the public position of MLS commissioner, Garber spent 16 years working in a variety of senior leadership roles at the National Football League. His understanding of how to reach and create a foundation of sports fans was apparent in his various initiatives. He spearheaded mandates that led to the development of 19 soccer stadiums in the United States and Canada, and five more soccer venues that will open in the next few years. These stadiums, Garber’s thought process went, would help create a community of fandom along with a larger sense of legitimacy for professional soccer in the United States.
The stadiums, and the crowds they’ve attracted, may turn out to be one of Garber’s crowning achievements. The average attendance of an MLS game since Garber was appointed commissioner has grown from 14,000 fans to more than 22,000.
To celebrate Garber’s upcoming enshrinement, a legend of U.S. Soccer in his own right delivered the Commissioner a commemorative scarf and coin early this morning. Jeff Agoos, a 2009 inductee of the National Soccer Hall of Fame, appeared in 134 U.S. Men’s National Team games from 1988 to 2003, making him one of the country’s all-time leaders in games played.
Since 2011, Agoos has served as Senior Vice President, Competition, Player Relations & Competition for Major League Soccer, in which he has worked in tandem with Garber, fine-tuning the rules and formats that result in the best possible quality of game presented to the fans.
After Garber’s official induction into the Hall of Fame, there will be no ride into the sunset. At least not for now. Garber is the rare Hall of Fame inductee—of any sort—who will be celebrated for his past accomplishments, but whose work may be far from done.
It’s commonly believed that while soccer has grown tremendously in the United States, there remains significant opportunity for continued growth. During Garber’s tenure, support for the beautiful game has evolved from a basic interest in the sport to the kind of team-based fandom common in other popular American sports. In fact, a recent Gallup poll stated that soccer ranks second in popularity as a spectator sport among people 18-34 in the U.S., behind only gridiron football. During the last decade, soccer's popularity in the U.S. has tripled.
It’s no secret that the growing popularity of the MLS can only have a positive trickle-down effect on the overall state of U.S. Soccer. Garber deserves his spot in the National Soccer Hall of Fame, but it would be wise to leave some space for the rest of his story to be written.
Hall of Fame Resume
Don Garber, Builder
MLS Commissioner (1999-present)
Don Garber was named Commissioner of Major League Soccer in 1999 after 16 years at the National Football League where he served in a variety of senior leadership positions. During his tenure, MLS has expanded from 10 to 26 clubs, added 22 new owners and secured long-term broadcast agreements with ESPN, FOX and Univision along with major broadcasters in Canada, Europe, Asia and South America. Garber has also led efforts to develop 19 soccer stadiums in the United States and Canada, and five more soccer venues will open in the next few years. In addition, Garber serves as CEO of Soccer United Marketing, the commercial arm of MLS and multiple soccer properties, including U.S. Soccer. In 2011, the Los Angeles Timesnamed Garber one of the nation’s top sports commissioners. He has been named among the top 50 most influential people in sports business by the Sports BusinessJournal every year since 2005. The Queens, NY native was originally elected into the Hall of Fame in 2016 but opted to defer his enshrinement until 2018.