Long-suffering South Florida fans hoping for a Major League Soccer team have more and more cause for optimism.
It could really happen this time (she says, with some trepidation, having lived through several incarnations of Miami pro soccer and covered all the false alarms since the Fusion folded in 2001).
According to sources with knowledge of the situation, “serious talks’’ continue between potential Miami owners David Beckham, the retired soccer icon, and Marcelo Claure, the Bolivian-American billionaire owner of Miami-based Brightstar Communications.
There is also a third unidentified person who has remained under the radar and discussed Miami ownership with Beckham’s associates. That person could wind up working independently with Beckham, or in a three-way partnership with Beckham and Claure.
MLS commissioner Don Garber announced at halftime of Wednesday’s All-Star Game that the league plans to add four teams by the 2020 season, bringing the total to 24 teams. The three front-runners are Orlando, Miami and Atlanta.
Beckham retired from the L.A. Galaxy earlier this year and has the right to purchase an MLS franchise at a severely reduced price based on a clause in his contract with the league. He is supposed to exercise that option before the end of this year. He visited Miami during the NBA playoffs and explored the area with Claure.
They took tours of Sun Life Stadium and FIU Stadium, but sources say the league would strongly favor a 20,000- to 25,000-seat soccer-specific stadium that would probably have to be privately funded.
“Beckham is focused on Miami, and he has talked to multiple partners about it,” one source said. “The key things are finding the right ownership group, the right business model and the right stadium. If Miami can get the perfect storm of owners, business model and stadium, it could happen.”
Orlando City, a second division club looking to move to MLS, put together an aggressive bid and been extremely close to reaching a stadium deal on a few occasions. That group’s owners were in Kansas City last week to make a presentation to the MLS Board of Governors.
The league has added 10 clubs since the beginning of the 2005 season. New York City FC, which is co-owned by the New York Yankees and Manchester City, will be the 20th team and begin play in 2015.
“These expansion clubs have brought new ideas that have contributed to our strategy for growing the league and the addition of new markets has expanded our geographic reach while increasing our fan base,” Garber said. “As MLS enters a period of accelerated growth, the addition of new teams will allow us to expand our geographic coverage, grow our fan base and help us achieve our vision of being among the best leagues in the world by 2022.”
Other markets which have expressed interest in MLS expansion include Raleigh (N.C.), St. Louis, Indianapolis, Detroit, Minneapolis, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego and Las Vegas.
The MLS criteria for expansion are: a committed ownership group with deep pockets, a stadium plan preferably for a 20,000- to 25,000-seat venue, sponsorship opportunities, geography, and fan passion measured by attendance at local soccer events.
South Florida has always drawn big numbers for international friendlies, and Miami’s TV ratings for international soccer always rank among the top three in the nation.
That doesn’t automatically translate to MLS audience, but the league judges the market’s potential fan base largely on how many tickets get sold for local soccer matches.
This is where you, the South Florida fan, comes in. If you want an MLS team here and haven’t yet purchased tickets for the Guinness International Champions Cup at Sun Life Stadium Tuesday and Wednesday, what are you waiting for?
Seven of Europe’s top clubs — Real Madrid, Chelsea, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Everton, Valencia, Juventus — and the L.A. Galaxy will converge on Sun Life for the final rounds of the inaugural summer tournament.
Lots of marquee players will be on the field, including Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Carlos Tevez (Juventus), Juan Mata (Chelsea), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Tim Howard (Everton), Esteban Cambiasso (Inter Milan) and Ever Banega (Valencia).
The seventh- and fifth-place matches are Tuesday night, and the third-place and championship matches are Wednesday night.
The ICC Fan Fest is a free event in conjunction with the tournament and will run from 4 to 9 p.m. both nights. Parking on both days will be $20.
The ICC Fan Fest will be highlighted by the player arrival parade, where every player from each team will march through the crowd and greet fans as they enter Sun Life Stadium.
There will be food booths, live entertainment, interactive soccer games, human foosball fields, soccer-themed photo booths and a Guinness Black Lager Beer Garden.
For tickets and more information, go to www.internationalchampionscup.com.