David Beckham Wants Miami To Embrace Soccer
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
When soccer superstar David Beckham announced yesterday he's bringing a new major league soccer team to Miami, the big question was: Will it succeed? Beckham made the announcement not far from a site he and his partners are eyeing for a stadium.
Still, as NPR's Greg Allen reports, Miami is a city where Major League Soccer has been tried and failed before.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: David Beckham has openly flirted with Miami for months. He's shown up at Miami Heat games, where he's been greeted warmly by fellow sports celebrity LeBron James. He's held meet-and-greets and negotiating sessions with local officials. By yesterday morning, when he was ready to make it official, anticipation was intense.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) We love you. We love you. And where you go, we'll follow. We'll follow. We'll follow.
(SOUNDBITE OF CLAPPING)
ALLEN: About 30 members of a club devoted to bringing MLS soccer back to Miami were there at the news conference. The array of TV cameras was worthy of Super Bowl media day. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez was there, on stage with Beckham and Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber.
MAYOR CARLOS GIMENEZ: So, I'm thrilled to announce that David Beckham has exercised his option to purchase an MLS expansion team, and so excited that he's selected Miami as the market for his new club.
ALLEN: It was a deal Beckham negotiated when he signed as a player with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007. His price for the franchise is $25 million, a third of what some teams have gone for. Yesterday, with news helicopters buzzing overhead, Beckham said he knew that the last MLS team here - the Miami Fusion - folded more than 10 years ago. This time, Beckham said, things would be different.
DAVID BECKHAM: You know, Miami - as Don has said and the mayor has said - is a vibrant city. It's a city with a lot of passion. And I know this city is ready for football, soccer this time around. I know that this is going to be successful.
ALLEN: Beckham said for him, this is a dream come true. In describing his vision for the new team, he mentioned the Miami Heat. Like the Heat, he said he hoped to attract the sport's top stars to his team. Many, he said, were already calling and texting.
In the last decade, Beckham said, he's seen big changes in MLS.
BECKHAM: I've seen the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Barcelona come over to America. They spend time here. They want to play against the MLS teams. They're interested in this league, and that's what's changing.
ALLEN: Beckham struck the right note with county officials and taxpayers when he said he wouldn't seek any public money for the stadium he and his investors plan to build. He does want the use of county land. One prime spot Beckham and his team are looking at is on Biscayne Bay, not far from the city's new Art Museum and the basketball arena where the Heat play.
Yesterday, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez wasn't making any promises. But he said he expected that the new stadium would fit well with all the other changes happening downtown.
GIMENEZ: If you come back in five years, you're not going to recognize Miami and downtown Miami. And so, that stadium needs to be part of the fabric of Miami.
ALLEN: MLS Commissioner Garber talked glowingly about how well his league is doing: eight new teams and nine new stadiums in recent years. But in Miami, perhaps surprisingly, soccer has struggled.
Brian Corey, a 28-year-old member of the Miami MLS supporters club, says the way he sees it, the combination of Beckham, a downtown stadium and the world-class team he's promising are unbeatable.
BRIAN COREY: The average attendance to an MLS game is around 20,000. The stadium they're going to build is 25,000. If it's in the city of Miami, I really find it hard to believe that we won't get that kind of attendance.
ALLEN: The as-yet-unnamed team won't start playing for at least another few years, while Beckham and his partners work on negotiating a place for, and begin building, their new stadium.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.