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Blatter: MLS should switch to traditional schedule
March 12, 2009, 7:21 AM
Filed under: FIFA, MLS

FIFA president Sepp Blatter wants Major League Soccer to switch to a traditional soccer schedule that starts in late summer and ends in the late spring.

Currently, several MLS teams share stadiums with NFL franchises and don’t have access to arenas on many weekends in the fall. The schedule creates difficulty when players transfer from MLS to Europe and back and causes MLS matches to be played on days set aside by FIFA for national teams.

“American football plays in winter, so they can only play from March to October, which means you are not in the right season,” Blatter said Wednesday before watching Manchester United beat Inter Milan 2-0 in the European Champions League. “The best American players are playing here, and this is the basic problem with the MLS.”

MLS has said it hopes to eventually make the switch but it can’t for now because it shares several stadiums with NFL teams. Eight MLS teams are in soccer stadiums built for the league, two share with NFL teams that are controlled by the same owners as the soccer club sand New York shares with NFL teams through 2009 before moving into its own stadium.

DC United plays in a city-owned ground where it is the primary tenant, Houston is at the University of Houston’s college football stadium and San Jose and Kansas City are at temporary homes.

“This league was founded after the 1994 World Cup, but is still struggling to get the position they should have according to the number of football players there are in the United States,” Blatter said. “It has the highest number of young players in any sport,” he said. “But the league has not found yet its position. It can only find its position if the league has its own stadiums.”

Blatter welcomed David Beckham’s announcement that he intends to buy an MLS franchise when he retires as a player. Last weekend, Beckham’s loan from the Los Angeles Galaxy to AC Milan was extended through the end of the Serie A season, and the English midfielder is to return to the Galaxy in July.

“This is absolutely a good idea if a footballer who has made lot of money out of football invests it again in football,” Blatter said.

On another topic, Blatter reiterated his preference for single World Cup hosts, suggesting that Spain should abandon its joint bid with Portugal if it wishes to stage the 2018 tournament. The United States is among the bidders to host the World Cup in 2018 and 2022, and Blatter said there is a “general understanding” that Europe will play host in 2018 after South Africa in 2010 and Brazil in 2014.

A decision on the 2018 and 2022 hosts will be made by the 24-member FIFA executive committee in December 2010.

“The executive committee has taken the decision as long as we have individual candidates able to organize the World Cup alone then this should be the principle,” Blatter said.

FIFA, soccer’s governing body, relies on the World Cup for 90 percent of its revenue and expects to earn $3.2 billion in television and marketing revenue from the 2010 tournament.

Blatter said Wednesday the organization will remain in a “comfortable situation” until 2010, but is braced for a bleaker financial outlook after that when deals for future tournaments must be negotiated.

“We are in a financial crisis in the world and football has not yet so much been touched by the first wave of an economic tsunami,” Blatter said. “But the second wave will touch football, especially with the sponsorship of club football and sport in general. Look at Formula One and motor sport—they have already lost sponsors.”

While Blatter welcomed foreign investors putting money into clubs, he expressed concern that teams were losing their local identities, especially in England’s Premier League.

“In England, the clubs don’t belong to the fans they belong to investors,” said Blatter, who favors the German model in which there is majority local ownership.

Blatter said he has met the Florida-based Glazer family, which owns Manchester United, and associates of Liverpool co-owner George Gillett Jr., from Colorado.

“I can only thank them for putting money in football. I cannot say they should not do it,” he said. “It is definitely good for football that they bring money in. But perhaps it is not the right solution, but it’s good as long as football, with that money, keeps the moral and ethical duty of football.”

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