As Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake City prepared to play in Saturday’s 2013 MLS title game, the U.S. soccer scene was buzzing about recently retired superstar David Beckham. Now in line to now become a franchise owner, Beckham may be teaming up with basketball’s biggest star: LeBron James.
He’s shooting for a third straight NBA title with the Miami Heat, but James has other goals. Already part owner of Liverpool FC in the English Premier League, King James may now be looking to bring the sport of soccer to subjects in his adopted home of Miami.
“There’s some interest on both sides,” James said. “David has become a good friend of mine over the last few years, and I think it would be great for this city to have a football club for sure, so there’s interest on both sides. But it’s preliminary talks.”
Beckham just wrapped up a glorious 20-year playing career with league titles in four different countries. The former Manchester United, AC Milan, and Paris St. Germain standout helped put MLS on the map as a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy, which gave him a $32-million contract in 2007. As part of that deal, the league also gave him the option of purchasing his own franchise upon retirement at a deeply discounted rate of $25 million.
In a recent interview with the BBC, Beckham, 38, seemed ready to exercise that option in Miami.
“Miami is definitely one of the cities that I’m excited about, that I’ve been to, and that I think is a place where they need football,” Beckham said.
Since hanging up the cleats in May, Beckham has made several trips to Florida and has had discussions with James and billionaire Ecuadoran businessman Marcelo Claure about a possible partnership.
In the meantime, MLS is expanding.
It has already more than doubled its size from the original 10 teams a decade ago to a soon to be total of 21.
Last month, the league announced the addition of Orlando City FC, giving Florida its first franchise since the Miami Fusion were disbanded after the 2001 season.
So, is this Beckham/LeBron pairing a sports marriage made in heaven?
“Those are basically the two biggest names in international sport right now: David Beckham and LeBron James, so if their names are attached to something, and their brands are attached to something, people are going to pay attention,” said Michelle Kaufman, who has covered soccer for more than 20 years at the Miami Herald.
She says those are the pros. But that there are also plenty of cons.
“Miami is like a fruit salad. Everybody is in the bowl, but nobody ever gets together. They just bounce around there together,” said Tom Mulroy, president of the nearby Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the now reincarnated North American Soccer League.
Mulroy, a former defender who played professionally against the likes of Pele, believes fans — especially in fickle Miami — won’t be satisfied with just big-name owners.
“You know, no one really comes to watch an owner, they come to watch players,” said Mulroy. “So, is Beckham’s group gonna be able to bring in the next Beckham? Are they going to find the right place to put this stadium?”
And stadiums are a sensitive issue in these parts.
Since the Marlins’ recent deal left taxpayers on the hook to house a team the owner promptly dismantled; building them is anathema in Miami.
But the public won’t be involved this time. The proposed stadium would be completely privately funded.
During a recent trip to Miami, Beckham took a tour of the Little Havana baseball park to see if it would be suitable for soccer. But he recently asked county leaders to consider a location at PortMiami where nearby cruise ships, shopping and restaurants could provide instant game traffic.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber says playing in the right facility is the key to the new franchise’s success.
“You need big-time owners that believe in the game and have financial resources to support it, particularly build a stadium, and you need a great stadium site.”
While pro soccer’s future success in Miami isn’t assured, MLS’s viability may be. The league is coming off its two best attendance years on record.