David Beckham group still working on Miami MLS bid; competing group emerges

Soccer icon David Beckham and Miami-based cellphone mogul Marcelo Claure remain in serious discussions about bringing a Major League Soccer franchise to Miami, but nothing has been finalized, the stadium issue is still a question mark, and another interested ownership group emerged this week.

According to a source with knowledge of Claure’s negotiations with Beckham, the two parties met in Japan last week and plan to meet again in the next few weeks in Los Angeles. Talks are “progressing nicely, but not a done deal yet,” said the source.

Beckham retired from MLS last spring, and as part of his contract with the league, he has an option to buy a franchise for a sharply discounted price believed to be $25 million. He has said he plans to exercise that option, and Miami is his top choice. The option expires in December, so he would have to decide before then.

He toured Miami in June with Claure, the Bolivia-born owner of Brightstar Corporation, and visited Sun Life Stadium and FIU Stadium, though neither of those is ideal, according to MLS sources. The league is looking for an intimate soccer-specific stadium, if possible. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has also expressed interest in bringing MLS to South Florida.

Meanwhile, a London-based investment group led by Italian financier Alessandro Butini made its pitch for MLS-to-Miami official on Tuesday, partnering with the University of Miami School of Architecture to develop ideas for a viable soccer-specific stadium, and launching a website — — to drum up fan interest.

Butini had an exploratory meeting with MLS commissioner Don Garber in New York early this year, and Garber told him a soccer-specific stadium in the right part of the city was paramount for a successful bid. Butini said his plan would include a privately-funded stadium. His partners include Marco Novelli, who has been successful in real estate ventures, and Suzie MacCagnan, a former New York financial advisor who more recently has brokered deals between foreign investment groups and English Premier League clubs.

“Commissioner Garber told me the stadium is the biggest variable, the No. 1 priority, so I am tackling that issue head on,” said Butini, who gave a presentation to UM architecture students and a few local architects Monday. “MLS is looking for an 18,000- to 20,000-seat venue with covering for the fans, good drainage, FIFA compliant, luxury suites and first-class media facilities. I told the UM students we’d be looking at a $70 million budget for a project like this, knowing that it would likely cost closer to $85 million.”

The UM students will present their final project in early December. In the meantime, Butini said, he and his group will explore locations and get to work on the expansion bid. Butini is a frequent visitor to Miami, has many friends here, and thinks it is the perfect location for MLS.

“I think the team would work great because of the changing demographics over the past 15 years, more and more foreigners, more and more passion for soccer,” he said. “People say Miami fans only watch foreign teams and not MLS, but if their kids grow up with local soccer heroes, that would change. Miami is an event-driven town, and my idea is to make a great fan experience at the stadium so people will want to be there.”

He sees Miami Beach or downtown Miami as the best places for a stadium, but has no specific location in mind yet.

“I simply love Miami, and if I can manage to make it a little bit better by bringing a soccer team, then I’ll be the happiest person on Earth,” Butini said. “MLS has evolved. When I mention MLS in Miami now in Europe, people are interested. The weather, the people here, the diverse cultures, the food, everyone wants to be in Miami.”

The league’s previous Miami team, the Fusion, was intended for the Orange Bowl, but wound up at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale and folded after four seasons in 2001. The Fusion’s average attendance its final season was 11,177.