The head of Major League Soccer on Thursday continued to suggest diminishing patience for David Beckham’s elusive stadium deal in Miami, noting that sometimes “you move on” when hard-fought goals don’t materialize.
“We have a lot invested in it because of the amount of time we’ve spent on it,” Garber said of the 20-team league. “Everybody needs to understand, including David and his partners, that we’ve worked hard, and it’s time for us to reach a conclusion.”
It was Garber’s latest the-clock-is-ticking moment in relation to Beckham’s stadium quest, which went public nearly three years ago and has since fizzled at three would-be sites and is stalled on a fourth. In the time since Beckham first announced at a February 2014 press conference he wanted to build an MLS stadium in Miami, the Miami Dolphins won some county financial backing for their stadium renovation, built the $400 million project, and played six games under a new roof in Miami Gardens.
Garber’s comments came during an announcement of the soccer league’s new regime for expansion teams, including a $150 million fee for teams who join MLS after Miami. When Beckham signed on as an MLS player in Los Angeles in 2007, his contract included an option to buy a franchise for $25 million. The discount would essentially mean unearned revenue for existing MLS owners, and Beckham’s option has grown in value as MLS ups its price for would-be teams to join.
On his call, Garber spent much of the time talking about expansion strategies beyond Miami — fielding questions on would-be stadiums in St. Louis, North Carolina, Texas and San Diego, California. In 2017, ownership groups in Atlanta and Minnesota will join the league, with new stadiums on the way. A third new team, in Los Angeles, is slated to start play in 2018.
That would leave Miami to become the 24th franchise on the MLS roster. But with Beckham’s bid delayed, Garber faced the awkward task of outlining the process for selecting the league’s 25th and 26th teams while No. 24 remains a question mark.
“We are very focused on Miami being our 24th team. And we’ll continue to work with them to try to achieve that,” Garber said. “I remain a big believer in the importance of Miami to extending MLS’s reach to south of the border and to connect with a very diverse and culturally important city in our country.”
Beckham and partners have pledged to privately finance their stadium project, and to pay market price for county real estate they want to buy in Overtown. The Dolphins secured a complex subsidy deal in exchange for its privately-financed stadium renovation. Miami-Dade agreed to pay the team up to $5 million a year for large, tourism-generating events, like the Super Bowl, played at the renovated stadium.
Major League Soccer has given potential ownership groups from 10 cities, including Tampa, until Jan. 31 to submit their expansion bids for the 25th and 26th franchise slots, which Garber said would be awarded in the second half of 2017. Last week, Garber said there was a “deadline” for the Miami deal but declined to say when it was. On Thursday, he stuck with that and wouldn’t say whether the Jan. 31 deadline applied to Miami, too.
Earlier this year, Beckham’s ownership group paid $19 million for six acres of private land in Overtown, the bulk of what’s needed for a 25,000-seat stadium expected to cost at least $150 million to build. But the group, Miami Beckham United, still needs three acres of adjoining land owned by Miami-Dade County. The county is ready to sell, but Beckham’s representatives have delayed negotiations over what they say is a need for more investors in the MLS deal.
Privately, members of Beckham’s Miami team says they’re confident a deal can be reached to move forward with the Overtown stadium, and Garber told reporters he is “more confident” than he was a year ago on Miami’s MLS prospects. But his remarks also touched on the possibility of the deal fizzling.
“I’ve also learned, having done this a long time, that not everything you want to do gets done,” Garber said. “Sometimes you have to take a step back, and if you can’t get it done, you move on.”