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Latino Interest Kick-Starts MLS

New York— Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber said his league, now in its 11th year, had no illusions about futbol’s core supporters in this country.

“Stated very simply, if not for what’s going on in this country with Hispanics, professional soccer would not exist in the United States today,” he said in a keynote speech last Thursday at the Hispanic Television Summit. “It’s not about the 18 million kids that are running around today in suburbs across the country. It’s about those people who are from the game, believe in the game and bring to their love of sport, in this case the sport of soccer or futbol, an enormous passion.”

Hispanic fans want to see international teams and players, especially from Mexico and Spain, so that’s MLS’s focus, too, Garber said. The league, which last month signed an eight-year TV rights package with Univision, generated $15 million in revenue from a five-match exhibition series last summer featuring MLS teams and Spain’s Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Garber said 40% of MLS’s staff speaks Spanish, and teams increasingly are employing Hispanic marketing squads. The league’s next franchise will be in Toronto and its top marketing executive used to be the head of marketing for Visa in Mexico City.