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Leaders Podcast: Don Garber in conversation with Jimmy Worrall

Episode 40: The MLS Commissioner reflects on two decades at the top.

Don Garber has been Commissioner of Major League Soccer since 1999 and it’s no exaggeration to suggest he has been fundamental to the growth of soccer across the US. (Interview begins at 10 mins 30 seconds).

The league is now a thriving 23-team entity, there’s a genuine and unique football fan culture in cities across the States, and the sport has been transformed into a commercial proposition of genuine heft and global significance.

Leaders CEO Jimmy Worrall sat down with Garber at the league’s New York headquarters during Leaders Week in the Big Apple back in May, a few short weeks before the US, Mexico and Canada were awarded the right to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

In this comprehensive discussion, Garber reflects on his near-20-year career guiding the league, from his qualifications – or lack thereof – to take the job in the first place, through the early days of trauma and struggle, to the vision, strategic approach and relationship-nurturing that have gone into building and cementing MLS as a genuine major sport.

On the conversational agenda:

– The role of a major league commissioner;

– What could have been for Garber had he not moved from the NFL to MLS in 1999;

– The league’s 10-team, 3-owner nadir and a dinner with ESPN’s John Skipper that proved to be the turning point;

– Long-term leadership lessons and the ones he wouldn’t necessarily have abided by if he had his time again;

– Why he believes the league’s USP is its young, digitally savvy staff;

– Why Gary Bettman should have a statue, and the NFL should never, ever be counted out;

– The deep sense of responsibility Garber feels to owners, fans and public-private stakeholders;

– His secret passion for R&B music and why his first job, at a gas station, was the best one he’s ever had.

Listen to the podcast below, and subscribe today on iTunes, Stitcher, Overcast, or your chosen podcast platform.

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