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David Beckham still targeting Miami for MLS expansion team, but nothing has been finalized

David Beckham continues to target Miami for an expansion Major League Soccer team, and talks with investors are “looking very promising,” according to two sources close to the negotiations. But nothing is final, according to a Beckham spokesman and MLS sources.

“We are not ready to announce anything yet, but Miami remains a strong option for us,” said a statement from Beckham’s management group. An Associated Press report out of London on Tuesday saying Beckham had chosen Miami for his MLS team sent local fans and media into a frenzy. But the celebrations were premature.

Beckham is still in the process of lining up investors and raising a couple hundred million dollars to fund a soccer-specific stadium.

He has been approached by potential investors from all over the world about partnering on an MLS team, and Miami is the intended market because of its global appeal, passion for soccer, and its location as the gateway to Latin America. Many European and South American fans and players vacation in Miami, making it an attractive market for MLS expansion.

South Florida had an MLS team, the Miami Fusion, from 1998 to 2001, but the team played at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale and folded because it wasn’t making enough money.

Beckham is taking his time selecting partners because “he has a long-term vision of what a football club should be, and he wants to make sure he gets the right partners,” one source said. He believes high-caliber foreign players could be lured to MLS with a Miami team.

Billionaire Marcelo Claure, the Miami-based founder of Brightstar Corp., is among the potential partners with whom Beckham has had talks.

Claure showed the soccer icon around Miami last June, toured Sun Life Stadium and FIU Stadium with him, sat courtside with him at a Heat playoff game, and has had subsequent meetings with Beckham in Japan and Los Angeles.

Beckham is doing his due diligence, exploring all the options. Once he has everything lined up, he would then present his plan to the MLS board of directors, who would have to grant him the franchise.

Beckham retired from the Los Angeles Galaxy last spring. When he signed with the league six years ago, the contract included an option to buy an MLS franchise upon retirement for a discounted price believed to be $25 million. He has said he plans to exercise that option.

“We are continuing our discussions with David Beckham regarding future ownership of an MLS expansion team, and we are monitoring the situation,” MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche said. “He has not made any formal presentation yet. He has not met with our board. Our policy regarding discussions with potential expansion team owners is that we keep those conversations private until the individuals we are speaking with decide they want to go public with their plans.”

The league has 19 teams, and a 20th team, New York City FC, is being added in 2015.

That team is owned by English Premier League team Manchester City and the New York Yankees. They paid an expansion fee of $100 million. MLS commissioner Don Garber said he would like 24 teams by 2020, and Miami is high on the list.

That is music to the ears of Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez, who released a statement in response to the news reports Tuesday.

“We’ve not had any official notification that David Beckham has chosen Miami for a new MLS franchise,” Gimenez said.

“That said, I join the hundreds of thousands soccer fans throughout South Florida who are ready and eagerly waiting for an MLS team to be established in Miami. A world-class community like Miami-Dade County, also known as the Gateway to the Americas, would be a fitting home for the world’s most popular sport,” Gimenez said.

According to the AP report, Beckham’s business partner Simon Fuller, the American Idol creator who is the driving force in franchise negotiations, will be a significant shareholder.

Before deciding on Miami as the franchise location, Beckham explored options in other cities, including Montreal, San Diego and Orlando, the AP story said.