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With eye on more fans, MLS hires NFL's Garber

Seeking more fans and higher television ratings, Major League Soccer turned to the NFL.

Don Garber, who has spent the past three years running the NFL's European league, was hired as MLS commissioner Wednesday.

Doug Logan, the only commissioner in the league's four years, was forced to resign.

"Yesterday I was an 'is,' " Logan said at the start of the news conference. "Today I'm a 'was.' Tomorrow, I assure you, I'm going to be an 'is' again.

"There's no elegant way to say "I was fired.' "

His resignation was sought by Stuart Subotnick, MLS board of governors chairman of the New York/New Jersey MetroStars.

"Don brings expertise that Doug didn't have," said Subotnick, adding that the league must pay more attention to fans.

"A fan is no different than a customer," he said. "If you want a successful business, you need to get the loyalty of the customer, in this case the fan.

"We started with a bang, it leveled off and we're creeping up again. That's okay if you want a middling business. We don't."

Subotnick repeatedly referred to Garber's experience in marketing and public relations.

"We have not done a good job promoting the players," he said. "That's part of what you're going to find Don doing over time."

Garber is not well versed in soccer, but Subotnick said that will not be a liability. He pointed to Garber's success at introducing American football into Europe.

MLS attendance has only started to rebound after two straight years of decline, and remains below the average crowd of 17,406 it achieved in its first season. The league's TV ratings are flat, and have been that way since the beginning of the league's second year.

And some team officials have grumbled about Logan, particularly following his dismissal of deputy commissioner Sunil Gulati in February.

Gulati has been a major figure in American soccer for more than a decade. He played a key role in the organizing committee of the 1994 World Cup, the U.S. Soccer Federation and the formation of MLS.

Gulati remains a consultant with the league, but Subotnick said he would not join the new administration.

When Logan finished his remarks, he left the room. Garber and Subotnick then spoke.

"We're at an OK level, but not where we want to be as far as fan participation," Subotnick said in introducing Garber.

Garber, 41, has spent the last 15 years as a senior marketing and management executive with the NFL. Since 1996, he has been senior vice president/managing director of NFL International.

He managed all NFL business outside the United States.

"I want to translate the tens of millions who play the game into those who go and watch it on TV," he said.