David Beckham strikes me as a regular guy. Remarkably regular given his fame, money, good looks, hot wife and status as one of the best known athletes — or just plain best-known human beings — on the planet.
We may be impressed with him, but he doesn’t seem overly impressed with himself. That’s why his charm offensive is working.
Because he doesn’t seem to be working at it. When I sat down with Beckham recently, he struck me as unpretentious, straightforward and bright in a non-showy way. Genuine. Authentic. Someone you’d like to have a beer with.
Beckham has every right to be full of himself, but he’s not. He hardly said a word about himself during our conversation, but lit up when I asked about his four children — three boys and a girl. He laughed when explaining that his oldest, a 15-year-old boy, is named Brooklyn because that’s where he was conceived. His wife, Victoria — “Posh Spice” — was performing there. I await hearing how sons Romeo and Cruz got their names.
Beckham is soccer’s John the Baptist, an evangelist for the game. It has given his life structure and meaning (as well as worldwide fame and millions of dollars), and now he says he wants to “give back.” That phrase is usually an empty cliché, but it sounds sincere coming from Beckham. Soccer changed his life for the better, and he’s obsessed with making other lives better, too, through the sport. He promises to create a youth soccer academy in Miami like the one he came up in. “It’s my passion,” he says.
He’s also passionate about his MLS team playing in a razzle-dazzle waterfront stadium in downtown Miami. That appears to be a requirement from MLS for granting Beckham a Miami franchise. He and his advisers say they seriously considered half a dozen locations, but their No. 1 choice was always the southwest corner of PortMiami.
For years that land has been a parking lot and home to an oil spill recovery company, which is slated to move. The nearby water is too shallow for ships, and there’s no turning basin. PortMiami brass have long eyed the property as the site for Port City, 4 million to 5 million square feet of office buildings, hotels and who-knows-what. The port wants to develop the land to pay down its $1 billion debt.
But Richard Fain of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines evidently also has plans for the property. He sent County Mayor Carlos Gimenez a letter before the port stadium debate blew up hinting at his own plans to develop the property. Perhaps that’s why Fain has so aggressively opposed Beckham’s plan for a stadium. Or maybe he just doesn’t want his view of the downtown skyline blocked.
Fain and RCCL’s fierce anti-stadium campaign, fronted by the Miami Seaport Alliance, may also explain why Mayor Gimenez recently told Team Beckham to take a serious look at the old FEC boat slip and report their findings by May 19. Beckham told me the FEC slip would be a “special place” for a stadium, and the roughly $18 million needed to fill it in “would not be a problem.”
Opponents to the FEC site lined up quickly, most of them saying Miami needs green space. Of course, the slip is all water and rarely used. The city of Miami owns the property and is not inclined to sell it to the county — unless the price is right. The AAA sits on land the city sold to the county. And behind the AAA is Parcel B, which Mayor Gimenez cleverly added to the mix by asking the Beckham group to turn it into the park it was always supposed to be. That possibility, along with a bay front walk from Museum Park to the mouth of Miami River is a strong selling point. “It would be our own Malecón,” says the mayor.
Decisions on a stadium site must be made fairly soon, Beckham’s advisers say, or they’ll take their soccer ball (and money) and move on. That would be a shame. Beckham is a worldwide brand, and his track record as a player, person and businessman is good. He and his deep-pocketed partners, cell-phone billionaire Marcelo Claure and American Idol creator Simon Fuller, are willing to build the stadium on their dime. And pay a fair-market price for use of the land. What they didn’t count on was the deep antipathy toward sports stadia and the toxic hangover created by the Marlins Park deal.
But Beckham and his partners are nothing like Jeffrey Loria and David Samson. Major League Soccer would be a wonderful addition to the city, one more amenity to augment Miami’s hot reputation. Our leaders, elected and not, should figure out a way to make this work. As one Beckham adviser puts it, “We just can’t seem to take yes for an answer.”
The answer to Beckham should be Yes.