How Beckham Going to the MLS Would Benefit Both
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
How’s this for a ridiculous notion? David Beckham, the second highest-paid soccer player in the world (Ronaldinho tops him) joining an MLS team.
Ridiculous because Beckham gets around $8 million a year from Real Madrid, whereas the single-entity structure of MLS imposes stringent restrictions on salaries — the highest salary in the league is Landon Donovan’s $900,000 at the Los Angeles Galaxy.
But the notion is not so ridiculous when you consider that MLS, after 11 seasons of cut-rate soccer, is now forced to face the fact that its rosters lack outstanding players, and that this absence of stars is hurting the league. For some time now, there has been talk of a Beckham exception — a scheme whereby each club would be allowed to sign a marquee player outside the salary restriction — and Beckham’s name is used because he is the most obvious example of the sort of player who is needed.
In fact, Beckham would be just about perfect for MLS. He’s a world star, just reaching the twilight of his career at age 31, and therefore ready for a move.
And he is currently in negotiations with Real Madrid for a two-year extension to his contract. But this is not a great moment for Beckham: He resigned the captaincy of England immediately after this summer’s World Cup, and new coach Steve McClaren has not even included him in the team since then. At Real Madrid there’s another new coach, the Italian Fabio Capello, who has left Beckham out of the starting 11 for the past four games.
The talks are dragging on, leading to speculation that all is not well, and Real is asking Beckham to take a cut. Quite possibly because Beckham’s contribution to Real Madrid — on the field — has been anything but outstanding. Since he joined in 2003 the club has failed to win a major trophy. Beckham’s value to Real has always been as much about commercial interests as soccer skills. As the world’s most publicized player, Beckham has greatly helped Real’s campaign to make money by increasing its brand image worldwide. Real Madrid jerseys with Beckham’s name on them have been one of the sport’s hottest-selling items, especially in the Far East.
As both a player and a marketing icon, Beckham is on the wane as far as Real is concerned. Beckham himself can hardly be too concerned about a reduction in his $8 million salary — because he makes three times as much, an estimated $24 million, from endorsements.
Thus, if Beckham is going to accept a lower salary anyway, why should that not be from MLS? It seems likely that his main sponsors — Gillette, Pepsi, and Adidas — would continue their contracts were Beckham to move to the American market. Indeed, they might see even bigger opportunities for him here.
A move to the U.S. would immediately restore Beckham’s place as a top player. From being a bench player at Real, he would become the central jewel of MLS, the most important soccer player in America, the most publicized, the most sought-after, and the most hyped player in the game here.
On the purely commercial level, Beckham still has a lot going for him. His image — that of a stunningly beautiful male — is already well known. He has proved himself a master of public relations, projecting a modest, honest, almost innocent image to the world. His sex appeal is universal, and he has let it be known that he has no problems with his status as a gay icon. He has a glamorous wife in Victoria Adams, formerly Posh Spice of the Spice Girls. There has been the obligatory marital scandal, with revelations from a former nanny claiming that Beckham’s marriage is a sham, and that the couple only stay together to protect their financial interests.The charges led to the Beckhams suing the British newspaper — the News of the World — a case that was settled out of court last month. And there are the famous tattoos — nine of them, including the names of his wife and three sons, and the number 7, which he wore at Manchester United, before his move to Spain.
There are already links with America.The eldest of his sons, now six years old, is named Brooklyn. And there is a tie-in with MLS. Beckham has often expressed his wish to run a worldwide network of schools to teach soccer to kids: Soccer Academies, as they’re grandiosely called in the sport. Two of the academies are already up and running — one in London, and one in Los Angeles. The American version is housed at the Home Depot center in Carson, the home field of the Los Angeles Galaxy. It is run in partnership with AEG — the company owned by billionaire Phil Anschutz, who is MLS’s main investor, and who owns the Galaxy.
Should Beckham come to MLS, don’t expect him to join the Colorado Rapids or the Kansas City Wizards. For his own, and his wife’s, tastes and for MLS to reap the full benefits of his superstar rating — it would have to be either the Los Angeles Galaxy or the New York Red Bulls. Beckham’s relationship with AEG suggests Los Angeles, but London newspapers have reported talks between Beckham and the Red Bulls. In both cases, there is an AEG presence, for the company is heavily involved in the building of a new stadium for the Red Bulls in Harrison, N.J.
And what of the soccer? Would Beckham’s arrival kick-start MLS into producing a more attractive game on the field? No, it would not. Almost buried under the mountain of publicity for Beckham is the awkward fact that Beckham the player is no big deal. On top of his accurate crossing of the ball, he possesses but one exciting talent — the ability to take swerving free kicks (hence the title of the film “Bend It Like Beckham”). He has scored some memorable goals from his free kicks, but the opportunities to display this talent are not that frequent. He is not a spectacular dribbler, nor an electrifying playmaker, nor an outstanding header of the ball.
His immediate impact on American soccer would be the same as Pele’s impact on the old North American Soccer League in 1975 — to attract television coverage and to create a wider interest in the league. But if Beckham should come, and if his signing meant that he opened the way for MLS to relax its salary cap and to begin signing other highly-paid players, then his effect on the American game would be substantial.