It will all feel a little familiar, or a lot familiar if you follow MLS. Beckham’s arrival as a player seven years ago was a historic moment for the league in that it gave MLS the world’s most recognizable soccer player for a few years. Beckham and MLS parlayed that into attention that helped boost the league’s profile, and he also played a little soccer too, reaching three MLS Cup Finals with the Los Angeles Galaxy, and winning one in each of his final two MLS seasons.
The big difference between Beckham’s introduction as star owner and his arrival as star player/league savior is the simple fact that we have been through this before. And unlike in 2007, when Beckham arrived in the United States as a global superstar still capable of putting people in seats by simply stepping on the field, Beckham the owner won’t have that same draw or appeal.
|STRUGGLING TO FILL SEATS
|Perhaps it's the warm weather that allows for several other outdoor activities, or maybe it's the fact that the stadiums are difficult to get to through heavy traffic. Whatever the case, Miami sports franchises have a tough time getting people in seats.
Last year, the Miami Dolphins ranked 30th out of 32 NFL teams by filling only an average 85 percent of their seats. Meanwhile, the Miami Marlins ranked second to last in Major League Baseball with an average attendance of 19,584, which is just over half their capacity per game.
And then there's the Miami Heat. Despite ranking fourth in NBA attendance as they went for their second straight championship last season, the star-studded roster watched their fans walk out in the closing seconds of Game 6 of the NBA Finals, only for the team to win in overtime and eventually win Game 7.
Yes, you can argue that Beckham still does have box office appeal - after all, he is still capable of starring in his own Super Bowl commercials - but succeeding as an MLS owner won’t be as simple as being able to flash his smile and hitting some world-class free kicks. Fans don’t buy tickets to sporting events to watch owners, even owners as famous and attractive as Beckham.
No, Beckham’s success as an owner will be measured by the major decisions he has to make, and there is no overestimating just how important a job Beckham has on that front. He must ensure that he not only makes a wise choice regarding stadium location for his new Miami team, but also smart decisions about who he hires to run the club.
Failing on either of those tasks could leave his new Miami team in jeopardy of enduring the kind of slow start it may not be able to recover from. It is well documented how tough a market Miami is for pro sports teams, and anything but a strong start could make it difficult for Beckham’s new team to gain a foothold.
That means securing the kind of location that hits the sweet spot of casual fan appeal as well as convenience for soccer fans in the Miami area, which will be about as easy to get right as one of Beckham’s trademark free kicks. That will also mean hiring a coach and general manager capable of navigating Major League Soccer’s complex rules and building a winner from the start.
These tasks may sound simple enough, but we have seen other expansion teams stumble out of the gate and slow down their quests for success. The Seattle Sounders are an example of a team that hit the ground running, and their early on-field success is no small factor in the club's rousing success.
In Miami, a strong start is even more key to capturing the buzz that comes with launching a new team because, as past and present Miami sports teams can attest, if you don't give locals a very good reason to come out for games, they will be just as happy to stay home, or better yet, go to the beach.
Beckham's stadium, staff and roster will ultimately determine just how big an impact Beckham’s new venture has on MLS, a league that has ignored its own failed history in the area because of the promise of what a Beckham-led expansion bid could bring to the table. MLS believes in Beckham, and as much as some might write him off as a pretty face with a mean free kick, the reality is Beckham the player was a competitor who cared about winning and didn’t leave MLS until he had two trophies to prove it.
MLS will be banking on Beckham carrying that same determination over to the board room, and there is reason to believe he is capable of getting it right. After all, you need only to look at his career, which has been one of the most well-managed business enterprises in world soccer, and it reached that point not just on the strength of his looks and midfield play, but also his drive to succeed both on and off the field.
If Beckham does make the right call on a stadium home and if he puts the right people in place to run his new team, Major League Soccer’s newest expansion team can absolutely succeed where other pro sports teams (and one MLS team) have failed before. If he can pull that off, you could argue it would be the most impressive thing he has done in the sport of soccer, which would be no small accomplishment, and might lead to a new catch phrase: Build it like Beckham.