IMG Academy to pitch expanded MLS spring training to tourism council

cschelle@bradenton.comOctober 18, 2013 

MANATEE -- IMG Academy and Major League Soccer are closer to coming together on an agreement for an expanded spring training.

Manatee County's Tourist Development Council will listen to a presentation Monday requesting marketing money to advertise an expanded spring training for 2014.

The discussion will center on a plan for the 2014 training season instead of a multi-year agreement. No agreement has been reached, said Kim Berard, spokeswoman for IMG Academy.

The Herald first reported IMG Academy, 5500 34th St. W, is working with county tourism officials to make the academy the premier preseason home for MLS's 10 Eastern Conference clubs. That deal is evolving and would likely bring seven clubs in 2014 as MLS is looking to establish two to three preseason training hubs around the country. The league already has what it considers a hub in Tucson, Ariz.

A preseason hub deal opens the opportunity for bonus events, a mid-season friendly and other fan events, including a combine for incoming players and the MLS SuperDraft, Nelson Rodriguez, executive vice president of competition, technical and game operations for MLS, told the Herald in August.

Finding a workable deal beyond 2014 appears to have a new wrinkle as MLS could consider a schedule change, according to a New York Daily News report, citing a recent fan survey about such changes. MLS executive vice president of communications Dan Courtemanche posted on Twitter that the 2014 schedule will be similar to the current season, but left it open as to whether a restructured schedule is in the offing beyond 2014.

The report said that MLS could decide to start its seasons in late July and have a winter break for European and world tournaments and end the regular season in May with a championship later that month or in June.

While a winter break would be favorable for northern cities that would want to avoid an ice bowl match, such a schedule change could take the spring out of spring training if teams decide to come to Florida during rain-filled summers when hurricanes threaten.

IMG Academy's newly opened multi-sport stadium could become a centerpiece of MLS spring training.

The 5,000-seat stadium can be expanded to 10,000 seats and broadcast-ready lighting, press boxes and other equipment were installed to allow national and international TV stations to show games live from IMG.

IMG's second phase of its expansion will open in December, featuring a 40,000-square-foot fieldhouse with locker rooms, meeting spaces and offices.

The third phase in 2014 will include an expanded research and development lab for sports performance companies such as Gatorade, Under Armor, Airweave, Prince tennis and motion-capture software company Motus Global.

The academy's master plan shows additional multi-sport fields could be built in future years.

Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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