Premier League games in North America 'would harm MLS'

By Matt SlaterBBC Sport
Richard Scudamore on the 39th game and football's growing popularity in North America

The boss of Major League Soccer (MLS) believes any move to play competitive Premier League games in North America would threaten his league's future.

With US TV audiences for Premier League football booming, the idea of playing overseas has resurfaced among fans.

But MLS's Don Garber is against any revival of the 39th game plan.

"(Premier League games abroad) really would cross the line of going into a market and potentially threatening the first division," he told BBC Sport.

"While the Premier League is interested in growing revenues, they are the leaders of the game professionally - or certainly in the top two - and I think (chief executive) Richard Scudamore really cares about the game, loves our country and loves our league."

MLS boss Don Garber
Don Garber has run the MLS since 1999, having previously spent 16 years working for the NFL

The idea of playing an extra round of Premier League games overseas, the so-called 39th game, was first floated in 2008, but was quickly withdrawn after it was given a hostile reception.

Audiences for Premier League games on US television have risen by 150% in three years, and were up by 67% year-on-year for the opening weeks of this season.

Compared to the more established American sports, the numbers are still relatively small but audience share is good because matches kick off early due to the time difference.

Advertisers are also attracted because the audience is typically younger and wealthier than it is for other sports - and Premier League ratings routinely beat those of MLS games, despite the influx of big names such as Didier Drogba, Thierry Henry, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo.

Thierry Henry in action for the New York Red Bulls
Big names like Thierry Henry have helped the MLS get over teething problems and become a viable league with a growing international profile

But Garber, who admitted interest in the idea of a friendly summer competition involving the best of the MLS, the Premier League, the German Bundesliga and Italy's Serie A, said: "The rising tide lifts all boats, and we've got the most boats on the water.

"What we're trying to do is create a soccer nation in the US and Canada, and the more people we can turn into professional soccer watchers the more we can convince to become fans of their local team and the better off we'll be."

Scudamore has admitted being "envious" of the NFL staging competitive American football fixtures in London - but said the 39th game is "as far away now as it's ever been".

"The irony is not lost on us that the same British media who slammed us are talking them up," he said. "But in fairness to them, why not? I envy them and it's good that they can do it.

"We have certainly not created the conditions in the UK where we could do the thing in reverse."

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