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04/02/2007 1:16PM

'Game First' initiatives enhance on-field product

Advances in talent pool, player development, game presentation, officiating, strategic partnerships, and more improve soccer fans' experience
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NEW YORK - Major League Soccer Deputy Commissioner Ivan Gazidis today announced details of the "Game First" initiatives that will improve the quality, authenticity and excitement of on-field competition.

"MLS continues successfully to build a strong and permanent business infrastructure for the sport of soccer in the United States," Gazidis said. "At the same time, nothing is more important than what happens on the field and thus we are taking initiatives to place the on-field game and its presentation at the center of our priorities.

"Game First is an umbrella term for a process that began last year and is being accelerated in 2007 and beyond. The Game First initiatives are designed to elevate the level and attractiveness of on-field competition and create a world class soccer experience for our fans."

Extensive research conducted by MLS showed that soccer fans want more international stars and better access to MLS games. Game First aims to give fans what they seek without disregarding other priorities. Among the areas of focus are: player identification and acquisition, player development, technical game analysis, and game presentation, both in the stadium and on television.

GAME FIRST INTIATIVES

Players

  • MLS clubs have more resources than ever to acquire players. This off season has already witnessed a significant influx talent. The new resources include:
    • Increased options with allocation money
    • Designated Player Rule
    • Re-investment of transfer fees (MLS clubs now receive two-thirds of the fees earned when one of their players is transferred. That money can be used in a number of ways to improve the team's on-field product.)
  • Some of the players who have signed to play for MLS clubs recently are:
    • David Beckham (Los Angeles Galaxy)
    • Jim Brennan (Toronto FC)
    • Roberto Brown (Colorado Rapids)
    • Conor Casey (Toronto FC)
    • Luciano Emilio (D.C. United)
    • Fred (D.C. United)
    • Maykel Galindo (Chivas USA)
    • Yherland MacDonald, (Colorado Rapids)
    • Claudio Reyna (New York Red Bulls)
    • Carl Robinson (Toronto FC)
    • Robbie Rogers (Columbus)
    • Luis Tejada (Real Salt Lake)
    • Juan Carlos Toja (FC Dallas)
    • Andy Welsh (Toronto FC)
More signings are expected prior to the April 15 transfer deadline.

  • MLS has hired a full-time consultant based in South America to assist MLS teams in scouting and acquiring players from that talent-laden region.
  • MLS has started a worldwide player database and video library for teams to use as a scouting resource.
  • The Youth Development program allows for teams that invest in player development to reap competitive rewards for their efforts. Players who are part of an MLS club's Youth Development program for at least 24 months become eligible to sign directly with that team instead of entering the MLS SuperDraft.
  • Access

    • MLS will utilize a digital system that tracks and analyzes the technical aspects of soccer. This will provide coaches, players, and officials with valuable training and evaluation tool, help teams prepare for their opponents and allow for comparisons of our League games versus others around the world.
    • MLS is working with broadcasters to provide better television coverage of games than ever before. Every MLS game will be available via at least one of the following platforms: our national broadcast partners, the Direct Kick cable/satellite package, or MLSnet.com. Game broadcast enhancements include:
      • Increased access to national broadcast partners for locker room and sideline interviews that do not interfere with the game.
      More camera angles of the action; better and more timely replays.

    Game Presentation

    • MLS has implemented certain standards for pre-game presentations that will occur at all MLS games.
      • Teams will line up alongside each other in the tunnel prior to emerging for kickoff.
      • As teams enter the field, led by the referees (FIFA style), a new MLS anthem will be played.
    • A new MLS anthem and signature sound was recorded last month by a full orchestra in Prague, Czech Republic, under the direction of an American conductor. More details on this piece of music will be revealed on April 6 on MLSnet.com.
    • In-stadium commercial PA announcements during play will be significantly reduced.
    • MLS has established guidelines for field maintenance, including:
      • The length of the grass cut and optimal watering schedules prior to the match
      • The pattern of directional cuts, so as to assist fans and referees better view offside decisions
    Competition Format

  • The four MLS teams with the best regular season records in 2007 will qualify for SuperLiga 2008.
  • Starting in 2006, the Supporters' Shield winner for best regular season record receives one of the United States' two spots in the CONCACAF Champions Cup. The MLS Cup champion receives the other.
  • In 2007, the regular season was reduced to 30 games (from 32).
  • During the past few years, more bonuses for starts and wins have been incorporated into player contracts. In 2007, those bonuses will be paid once every two weeks instead of in one sum at the end of the year as in the past.
  • Playoffs: At the end of the regular season, the top two teams in each conference earn playoff spots along with four "wild cards" which have highest point-totals in the standings, regardless of conference. This will add competition and intensity to the playoff race. If one conference is stronger than the other in a given year, more of its teams can qualify for the playoffs.
  • On July 24, 2007, the inaugural edition of SuperLiga begins. This international tournament features four of the top teams from MLS and four of the top teams from Mexico's first division competing in a Champions' League-style format for a $1 million prize.
  • The MLS Technical Committee will continue to examine the competition format for possible changes in the future.

    Officiating

    • U.S. Soccer has hired full-time referees for the first time. Jair Marrufo, Ricardo Salazar, Baldomero Toledo and Terry Vaughn will become full-time referees, enabling them to focus their professional abilities on preparation and training.
    • MLS has established the MLS Working Group on Officiating, which will conduct regular meetings between officials, coaches, and player representatives to promote better relationships and understanding of the rules and their application. Funding has been budgeted for the formal training of the first MLS player who decides to pursue a career in officiating.
    • MLS works continuously with officials and players to protect player safety and prevent tactics that destroy the game. Among the new League initiatives for players and referees aimed at improving the attractiveness and rhythm of MLS games are:
      • Players have been advised to no longer kick the ball out of play when a player is on the ground unless they believe a serious injury has occurred. The referee will stop play in cases of serious injury. This change is designed to help maintain the flow of the game and reduce the feigning or exaggerating of injuries as a tactic to stop play, kill momentum and waste time. If a team kicks the ball out of play deliberately, but the player down is not injured, there is no obligation on the part of the opponent to return possession to that team.
      • Referees have been encouraged, at their discretion, to issue a yellow card caution to players who raise their hand with an imaginary card.
      • Referees have been encouraged to issue a yellow card caution to players who embellish or feign contact or injuries in an attempt to have opponents cautioned or sent off or otherwise disrupt game flow.
    Strategic Relationships

  • On March 13, 2007, MLS and the German Bundesliga launched a new relationship that will foster collaboration between the Leagues on multiple levels. The Bundesliga is a world leader among soccer leagues in average attendance, stadium design, broadcast production, and corporate governance.
  • MLS will strategically develop relationships with other leagues, federations, and clubs to glean the best applicable practices and maximize connectivity to the global soccer marketplace.
  • MLS is actively exploring new, meaningful international competitions.
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