The 'Other' Football....

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Soccer: What Do MLS, Bex and the NY Cosmos Have in Common....?

Written By : Alan Clark, Tuesday 5/31/05.

So, in a media frenzy, David Beckham had `arrived'. Not for the first time in his career, having already faced the British, Asian and Spanish paparazzi more times than taking the field, as arguably the world's most recognizable sports personality, the Beckham hype machine finally hit the ground running, Stateside.

The planet's most famous footballer stood before press in NY ahead and after his American playing debut for the English national team. The Captain had assisted on the game winning (hattrick) Michael Owen goal, as his team rode out a comfortable 3-2 victory over Colombia at Giants Stadium.

The questions rear their heads, including the inevitable.. `Will you play in MLS'?

Again the answers flatter to deceive, say nothing at all. Will-he/Wont-he?

Here is my take on the Beckham to MLS rumors-cum-hype-cum-fantasy, which seem to plague popular discussion boards and spark many a heated debate.

David Beckham, at 30, with 2 years left on a contract worth $8m a year (and total earnings in the ballpark of $30m+ a season) with world soccer giants Real Madrid, is not going to join MLS tomorrow. In all likelihood, MLS is 4-5 years in Mr Posh Spice's future. That said, I don't think it'd a stretch to see soccer's highest paid and highest profile player turning out in MLS in the future. Given the relative infancy of MLS and a seemingly insurmountable salary cap of just $2m a year - for the whole team - David Beckham seems hopelessly priced out of the reach of MLS.

However, there's two possibilities that could see `Bex' adorned in the colors of the LA Galaxy, Metrostars or Chicago Fire. The most simplistic link is the relationship between DB and Adidas, the primary sponsor of MLS (in a $150m 10 year deal). You must understand, David Beckham is a commercial machine; After his move from English Powerhouse Manchester United to Real Madrid (for circa $41m), it was speculated that he would repay his transfer fee within 6 months through commercial opportunities, such as shirt sales, particularly to the seemingly insatiable Far East markets. His vast branding in Asia is seen as gold mine to the front offices of his employer. The man is not only one of the world's top footballers, he has pin-up looks and is married to a former Spice Girl (Posh Spice, Victoria Adams). As the Captain of England, he and Victoria represent more than the consummate celebrity couple - he is almost considered royalty in the British Isles.

So, America would provide not one but two un-tapped markets. Soccer, the great participation sport here in the US, has not yet hit full flight as a professional spectator sport - and let's face it, there's lots of competition for fans from not just the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, but also NASCAR, Tennis, PGA and the ranks of collegiate sports. It's also untapped as a David Beckham market. Having won over the UK, Europe and Asia - the US remains the one last challenge in DB's commercial conquest of the planet.

So Adidas could step up and guarantee commercial endorsements in lieu of the money he would not make playing in MLS. In return, Adidas would have his imaging rights, and could extort the maximum for the Beck-buck. It would be a gamble, and assumes his success both on and off the field, and likely an `A' market team, but for a powerhouse such as Adidas, who have already seen the power of the Beckham brand, this could be an easy decision.

So, the US and Beckham seem destined to meet and fall in love. Soccer, and MLS in particular as the US Men's (and Women's) National team's do garner some interest, seems to need someone with the charisma, profile and outright talent of a David Beckham to help move it to the next level. In the seventies, the NASL had Pele as the icon of the league. Now Beckham may not be a match for Pele on the pitch, but as a marketing tool he is light years ahead and in commercial America, money is everything. In reality, David Beckham isn't even the most talented player on the `Galacticos', yet, outside of footballing circles, the average American would struggle to recognize Zinedane Zidane or Ronaldo, regardless of how good they are on the ball.

Beckham, it seems, to also be planting roots here - his first son, now 6, is named Brooklyn - and has used the English team's current tour to launch both a new (Adidas) product line and open a new soccer academy. Perhaps he is planning a corporate takeover, it would be ironic if in the fallout of Malcolm Glazer's unpopular assault and ultimate victory on Manchester United, David Beckham - an English institution and former United star - was to make his own counter-strike on the USA.

The second option would be for Beckham to take his interest to another level. Namely, ownership.

Who could write a better script than to have David Beckham sail into New York, revive the NY Cosmos brand and lead America's famous old team to MLS glory? New York and Beckham seem a perfect match. Beckham certainly has the wealth to pursue this alone, though a consortium may provide better financial stability. Recent stories have Andrew Murstein interested in both an MLS franchise and Cosmos trademarks. With the inevitable expansion preparations and delays, 2008 or 2009 is not out the question. David, do you have a window in January 2009? Could Beckham use his own image to push MLS to another level? In the days of NASL, the Cosmos were head and shoulders above the other teams, with huge crowds and famous players they were a diamond in the rough, and ultimately their huge success played a large part in the downfall of the entire league. Franchises struggled to keep up with the Jones's/Cosmos and folded as a consequence. MLS has a different financial model - a single entity structure - to help it grow at a more steady rate and to try and ensure that history does not repeat itself.

The Single Entity system has it's draw backs, though it's days seem numbered as more and more of the MLS teams move into Soccer Specific Stadiums (SSS) and for the first time in 10 years the league has a real shot at hitting the black. Recent ventures into expansion (in Salt Lake and Los Angeles) have seen a change in direction from MLS. Chivas USA, a spin-off from CD Guadalajara in Mexico, was an attempt to win over many of the Hispanic soccer fans in the country, and at the same time provided MLS with it's first Derby - between the incumbent Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA.

David Beckham could be the next evolution of soccer in the states. Be it as a player, owner - or both - the USA is wide open, and as a fan of the game, I hope he steps up and bends it into the top corner, as only Beckham can.


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