David Beckham overcame grumbling from Major League Soccer owners on Wednesday to win permission for formal talks on launching a Miami franchise that will have a billionaire financier as the majority owner.
Beckham traveled to Chicago to pitch owners in person and tout a privately financed stadium plan and a partnership structure that has drawn some criticism in the league.
Some owners reportedly aren’t thrilled to let the retired soccer star’s partners profit from the deep discount on an expansion fee that Beckham was granted as the marquee MLS player in 2007. Beckham — who will be a minority partner — has an option to purchase an MLS expansion franchise for $25 million, while the league now requires $150 million for new teams.
“I had some concerns they wouldn’t get past today,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said at a press conference in Chicago after owners voted to have him head up talks with Beckham and partners to finalize an expansion deal by September. “We’re not announcing MLS Miami today, but I am confident we’ll be able to do that, perhaps by the end of the summer.”
The announcement followed a day of high expectations as Beckham’s three-year slog for a Miami stadium site seemed on the verge of securing final league approval for an expansion franchise. But while Garber suggested in earlier interviews that owners could approve Beckham’s plan at the closed-door board meeting before the MLS All-Star Game, the actual vote left that decision for another day.
League approval is one of the three elements Beckham needs to start construction of the open-air stadium a few blocks north of the Miami River. The other two: purchasing from the Miami-Dade the three acres needed to complete a nine-acre stadium site in Overtown, and winning zoning approval from the city of Miami to build the 25,000-seat facility.
In June, the County Commission approved selling Beckham’s group the three acres for $9 million, but the agreement allows the soccer group to wait months before making a $450,000 down payment. That window expires Sept. 10, a county spokesman said, and was inserted to give Beckham time to win MLS approval for the team.
Garber seemed to lay out a schedule that meshed with the county deadline, saying he and a committee of owners expect to finalize a deal with Beckham by the end of August. An agreement would then go back to the league’s full board of owners for final approval.
Garber confirmed some details of a partnership that have already been reported in the media: Beckham will be a minority partner in the Miami franchise, with Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly serving as the majority owner. Longtime Beckham partners Marcelo Claure, the CEO of Sprint, and Simon Fuller, a producer who helped launch “American Idol,” will also hold minority stakes, as will Tim Leiweke, a veteran stadium executive and Beckham’s top negotiator in Miami.
Though he formally launched his quest for a Miami stadium in 2014, Wednesday was the first time Beckham talked about the plan with his would-be fellow MLS owners, according to two people close to the talks. It also was the debut appearance of Boehly, a Los Angeles-based billionaire who signed on as Beckham’s top backer earlier this year.
Boehly jumped in after the Beckham group tried and failed for three other Miami sites: one at PortMiami, one on the downtown waterfront, and one next to Marlins Park in Little Havana.
The drawn-out hunt by one of the world’s most famous athletes left local soccer fans baffled at Beckham’s uphill climb, particularly as his group abandoned attempts for public contributions of land or to shield the stadium from property taxes by making it a government-owned facility. Instead, the MLS stadium would be privately owned and the Beckham group says it will seek no public subsidies.
The Beckham group still must persuade the Miami City Commission to endorse its stadium plan, as well as sell it some city land sought near the two-block site at the intersection of Northwest Eighth Street and Sixth Avenue.
The Miami-Dade deal sparked instant friction with city leaders over a demand that only county police and paramedics receive lucrative off-duty shifts inside a stadium that falls under Miami’s jurisdiction. And two weeks ago, Bruce Matheson — a wealthy Miami landowner best known for legal fights with the Miami Open tennis tournament — sued to block Miami-Dade from selling Beckham the land without offering it up to other bidders.
Garber told ESPN this week the lawsuit wasn’t a concern, and Miami-Dade officials say they’re confident the Beckham group is paying market rate as allowed under Florida’s economic-development laws. At the press conference, he said Beckham’s presentation inspired confidence that Miami was on its way to becoming the league’s 24th team.
“Their plan was well received by our owners,” Garber said of Beckham and Boehly. “We believe the time is right, finally, to make Miami a great Major League Soccer city.”