This is an open message to David Beckham on how to make “the beautiful game” splash, stick and thrive in this international hub of partygoers, fair-weather fans and transient snobs del fútbol: Put a stadium and your Major League Soccer franchise in South Beach.
Anywhere else, Becks, and I’m afraid you’ll be wasting your time here in Miami. It’s really that simple … and that difficult, of course.
Beckham, for the uninitiated, wants very badly to start his MLS franchise — the one he was promised at a discount rate of $25 million by the league when he signed on to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy — in Miami, a city that loves soccer, but doesn’t really have a passionate interest in the domestic version of the game.
Actually, to say Miami has any interest in the MLS is being kind. Personally, I love the MLS, and I’m sure there are some people out there who can name a handful of teams, but by and large, MLS is as foreign to most soccer fans in South Florida as sunshine is to those rabid MLS zealots in the Pacific Northwest. That’s just the cold, hard truth and why the keen execs at MLS have been wary of Miami for years.
Put an MLS stadium in South Beach — in Flamingo Park — and none of that matters. The entire narrative changes overnight. Now, put an MLS team in that stadium owned by arguably the most recognizable living athlete on the planet and Miami not only has a surefire MLS success story but the MLS also would have the first club in its history it can market long term on the international level.
Beckham revealed Monday night that he’s close to announcing his MLS plans. He told British newspaper The Sun that “it will be a few months away maybe, but it’s important to get it right.”
Getting it right is getting a stadium in South Beach, a place where young people with disposable incomes live and work and practically shut down the island during the World Cup, a place where people could walk to games and a relatively small soccer stadium would have a neighborhood feel, a place where soccer would be fun and exciting and sexy.
Getting it wrong is putting a team at FIU.
Again: Beckham in South Beach works. Beckham out by the Turnpike and Tamiami would be an embarrassing disaster for everyone involved. Are we clear?
Beckham visited Miami a few months back to scout the landscape and was shuttled around town by Bolivian-born billionaire Marcelo Claure, who tried to bring the MLS to Miami a few years back. Naturally, Claure — a member of the board of trustees at FIU and also the owner of Bolivian club Bolivar — set up a visit for Beckham to tour FIU’s stadium, which the university has marketed as a soccer venue since its opening.
No offense to Claure and FIU, but thinking an MLS team could work at a university in west Miami is about as foolhardy as thinking a team named the Miami Fusion would last on West Commercial Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. If Claure truly wants an MLS franchise to work in Miami, then let’s hope he isn’t trying to force FIU on Beckham. If that’s the case, then the MLS needs to step in and pull the plug.
Beckham met with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez during his tour of Miami and was given keys to the city. Do those keys unlock the collective brainpower of our elected officials? If so, then they should be working hard to figure out a way to zone an 18,000-to-22,000-seat stadium at Flamingo Park. For the final time, you showcase the international game and the international star’s team on internationally famous South Beach.
To hear Miami-Dade County commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz tell it, there’s “huge” unilateral support from the entire Miami-Dade political apparatus to bring an MLS franchise to the city. Hey, who knew?
“It is not only from the county, it’s 100 percent support from the municipalities, the mayors and the commissioner, the counselors from the different cities, they are also extremely supportive,” Diaz told Reuters.
The county commissioner already is on record saying the town’s streamlined and efficient political machine is ready to help Beckham succeed. He should tell it two words: South Beach.
And, please, spare me the tired old arguments about traffic and light pollution and all the nonsense about flooding. South Beach won’t be underwater for another 50 years or so. That’s plenty of time to get in a few kicks on the beach.
Fans in Miami drive to see winners. Fans in Miami drive to see stars. You know where fans don’t drive? They don’t drive to that easily accessible stadium out by the horse track where good American football used to be played … unless, of course, it’s for an international soccer friendly.
Beckham sat courtside at a pair of Heat playoff basketball games back during the Eastern Conference finals, so it gave me a good excuse to ask Dwyane Wade about soccer in Miami and what would make it work. Wade doesn’t exactly know that much about soccer — that’s LeBron’s department, of course — but he does know a thing or two about sports in this city.
“You’ve got to start a base and then get into the community and make the community believe in it as well,” Wade said. “This wasn’t a basketball town, but they built a fan base, the community supports us and we’re winning.”
And then Wade added: “If anybody could do that, it would be [Beckham] because he’s so identified with the game.”
Since contracting teams in 2002, including the Fusion, MLS has found a blueprint for expansion that has worked in American cities such as Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Philadelphia. The grassroots formula for the league’s growth has been genius and brilliant and never will take hold in Miami. It’s going to take Becks on the beach.