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Garber sees linear TV deal, expansion on MLS' horizon

Even though MLS begins a groundbreaking 10-year partnership with Apple next season to broadcast games, there will still be some available on linear channels.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Even though Major League Soccer begins a groundbreaking 10-year partnership with Apple next season to broadcast games, there will still be some available on linear channels.

Commissioner Don Garber said during Thursday's "State of the League" address that the league is in the process of finalizing deals to simulcast some games on broadcast or cable networks.

The MLS Cup final between the Philadelphia Union and Los Angeles Football Club on Saturday will be on Fox, which has carried games since 2014. ESPN has been a league partner since the inaugural season in 1996.

"There was no real rush to do that during the season. There might be for those who are wondering what's going to happen going forward," Garber said. "For us, we were focused on getting through this year and spending time and energy on creating the production process and strategy to produce the games in super high quality with a team of announcers and content that we think will be new and innovative."

Garber — who has been the league's commissioner since 1999 — went on to say that setting up the framework with Apple and taking over the production remains on schedule.

Fans will be able to watch every game on the Apple TV app without local blackouts or restrictions. Besides all regular-season and postseason matches, the package includes all Leagues Cup matches — the competition between MLS and Mexico's Liga MX. That competition will expand next year to include all the teams in both leagues.

MLS will earn at least $250 million per year on the deal, but Garber said he doesn't see the increased revenues affecting the league's roster rules moving forward. Teams are allowed to acquire up to three players under the Designated Player Rule whose salaries exceed the league's maximum charge under the salary cap.

The streaming deal with Apple isn't the only thing MLS has to look forward to next year. St. Louis CITY SC will debut as the league's 29th team, with an announcement on the 30th expected by the middle of 2023.

San Diego and Las Vegas have emerged as the frontrunners. San Diego has a soccer-ready facility in place after with the opening of Snapdragon Stadium on the San Diego State University campus. Las Vegas' potential ownership group is still trying to finalize plans for an indoor stadium.

"It's not a matter of who's first and who's second. Both are very active discussions," Garber said. "We've always believed in San Diego, and I would say that we're probably closer there than ever before. I believe that Las Vegas, like all other leagues do, is going to be a growing market in terms of number of people and its ability to drive success for professional sports."

The Leagues Cup will also serve as an unofficial kickoff to the promotion of the 2026 World Cup, which will be hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Garber also said that the league believes Merritt Paulson should not sell the Portland Timbers after he stepped down as chief operating officer of the Timbers and the Portland Thorns of the National Women's Soccer League.

Paulson made those moves after an investigation that found abusive behavior, misconduct and administrative failure throughout the NWSL.

"Merritt has publicly acknowledged the mistakes he made. Stepping aside and the termination of two employees were steps in the right direction," Garber said.

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