David Beckham personally pitched Major League Soccer owners Wednesday on his plans for a Miami stadium in an effort to secure approval to bring a franchise to Overtown with a deeply discounted expansion fee.
A league source confirmed Beckham’s appearance before owners in Chicago on a day when Beckham’s partnership is hoping to score the league’s endorsement during the private, closely watched meeting tied to the MLS All-Star Game. It’s believed to be Beckham’s first time making a personal pitch before the ownership board, which must approve expansion teams.
Beckham’s investment group has already purchased six acres in Overtown for the privately funded, 25,000-seat stadium, and has another three acres owned by Miami-Dade County under contract. The Beckham deal with Miami-Dade gives his investment group until September to make a down payment on the land in order to secure MLS approval for the Miami team.
Beckham joined the league as a player 10 years ago, and part of his deal included the option to pay $25 million for a future MLS franchise. Expansion fees now hover around $150 million. Some MLS owners are balking at awarding Beckham, a minority investor in Miami, the discount when his deep-pocketed investors stand to enjoy the windfall tied to Beckham’s status as the most famous player to ever take the field for MLS.
Don Garber, the commissioner of Major League Soccer, has scheduled a press conference at 7 p.m. to discuss news from the closed-door owners meeting. Miami expansion is on the agenda, but so is a new deal with Adidas as well as the league’s broader expansion plans, a league spokesman said.
Garber said on Tuesday that Beckham’s bid was “at the finish line” and that “we’re at that point where I think we are getting ready to make the decisions internally to go forward.” The question is whether Garber will announce full league approval, or some sort of conditioned approval that falls short of a final agreement.
The Beckham group plans to have its Overtown stadium completed by the start of the 2020 MLS season, in time to potentially host regional qualifying matches for the 2022 and 2026 World Cups.
Beckham is expected to hold a press conference in Miami sometime in the next few months to give an update on his plans and formally introduce his investment team, which includes Los Angeles Dodgers joint owner Todd Boehly, British producer and American Idol creator Simon Fuller, Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, and veteran sports executive Tim Leiweke, who has been the chief negotiator on the deal.
Leiweke said last month that a team name, colors, logo and a training facility have been in the works while the land deal was being negotiated.
The group settled on the Overtown site for the stadium after two failed attempts on Biscayne Bay — at the port and next to AmericanAirlines Arena — and one adjacent to Marlins Park in Little Havana.
Miami Beckham United recently signed a deal for the three-acre parcel of land it needed from Miami-Dade County for $9 million. It had already acquired six acres from a private owner. Two weeks ago, Miami landowner Bruce Matheson, who is in litigation with the Miami Open tennis tournament over expansions on Key Biscayne, filed a lawsuit seeking to block the county’s sale of the Overtown land to Beckham. League and Beckham sources said they don’t expect the suit to derail the project.
There has been some pushback from residents of the adjacent Spring Garden neighborhood, and also concerns from fans that there are no parking lots planned. Leiweke seemed confident fans will use nearby public lots and public transportation to get to games. He also said the Beckham group will work closely with Spring Garden to address their concerns about noise and crowd control.
Upon acquiring the land, Leiweke said: “First and foremost is league approval. The next step is introducing our ownership group to Miami and getting going with the city on zoning, which I believe we’ll get through.
“In the background, we’ve spent a lot of time on our training academy and where it should be and what it should do, also have been working on a management team, our name and logo and colors. We are further down the road than people would suspect. We’d like to be playing in 2020, if that’s what league requests, and that means we’ve got to get going.”
Some possible sites for the training center are Doral, West Kendall, Barry University and FIU North campus.