The question that has underscored David Beckham’s quest for a Major League Soccer stadium in Miami has been how he and his investors expect to make money for a mostly privately financed $250 million stadium if it would only be filled maybe 25 days a year.
The answer he and his business partner, Simon Fuller, gave Thursday: They’re betting on the strength of the Beckham brand to draw television revenues and big-name sponsorships, as teams in far more established and more popular European soccer leagues do.
“We will generate more money than any other MLS team can dream of,” Fuller said. “The marketing power of a sports franchise is immense — that’s how we are approaching it.”
Speaking to the Miami Herald’s editorial board, Fuller, Beckham and two of their representatives portrayed the soccer venture as a way to market Beckham — and Miami — internationally, starting with a stadium they hope to build on public land using private funds. They also plan to apply for a state subsidy.
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They pushed back against their detractors, mainly Royal Caribbean Cruises, and stressed their dislike of the possibility that their stadium could go up next to the Miami Marlins’ ballpark — a location Fuller described as “spiritually tainted.”
In his most extensive local remarks to date regarding the MLS franchise, Fuller, the English creator of American Idol, painted longtime friend Beckham as a global sensation who has already drawn requests “from every single blue-chip company you can imagine” to be involved in the business.
Beckham’s group has many skeptics, led by the Miami Seaport Alliance backed by Royal Caribbean, who have posited that the real reason the investors wanted to build a stadium on their preferred PortMiami site is to develop the rest of the county-owned waterfront property. Otherwise, Royal Caribbean chairman Richard Fain told the editorial board last week that it’s “not a financially viable transaction.”
Miami Beckham United has acknowledged its likely interest in overseeing the commercial and office development of the site. But the group has also sounded eager about Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s recent suggestion that the stadium might be able to go on a filled, deep-water boat slip next to AmericanAirlines Arena. That location does not have room for the kind of development possible at the port.
To counter their critics, Beckham’s investors took out a full-page advertisement in the Herald last Sunday, in the form of a letter from Miami-based billionaire Marcelo Claure. Fuller said the investors are reluctant to punch back too hard because they’re “easy targets” as outsiders looking to be welcomed by Miami.
Despite that assertion, Fuller and John Alschuler, the real-estate adviser who negotiates with the county on the Beckham group’s behalf, were not shy about putting down Royal Caribbean, the only cruise company headquartered at the port.
“It’s kind of nonsense,” Fuller said. “How do we politely ridicule or oppose [the campaign]? Because frankly, they’re ridiculous.”
Beckham, who let his colleagues do most of the talking, said: “We don’t want to come into Miami and have enemies.”
Royal Caribbean and its allies, which they say include cargo-loading companies and a couple of dozen elected officials in numerous cities, said a port stadium would hurt the cargo and cruise industries in one of the county’s most important economic drivers.
Alschuler said Thursday that the soccer franchise would be willing to enter into a contract with the county stipulating the number of major events to be held at the stadium, if that would appease port interests and some politicians worried about traffic congestion.
The alliance’s president, Royal Caribbean lobbyist John Fox, has indicated that the organization doesn’t plan to oppose a stadium located anywhere outside the port.
The only other potential site seriously under consideration for now is filling the boat slip. Beckham had moved away from other possible locations, including next to Marlins Park, in comments he made at county hall on Wednesday, but Fuller essentially put a stake in the idea Thursday.
“We feel, I think, even though we’re not from Miami, that it’s a little spiritually tainted,” he said, referring to the unpopularity of the public financing deal for the ballpark.
Fuller also said that the baseball stadium, with its retractable roof and more than 36,000 seats, would eclipse an open-air soccer stadium next door, which at that site might only be able to seat 20,000. Beckham’s group is more interested in a 25,000-seat stadium that could have more seats added later if the team is successful.
Soccer won’t work if it starts off as Miami’s “fifth sport,” according to Fuller, after football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey. He called the Marlins site “a horrendous disservice to a massive ambitious, exciting prospect.”