During his playing days, David Beckham was known for his bending free kicks, which curved around obstacles and regularly landed in the back of the net.
On Tuesday afternoon, the British soccer icon and his business partners got past a major barrier by securing county approval to buy the final parcel of land they sought to build a Major League Soccer stadium in Miami.
But they can’t reach their ultimate goal until the league gives them the green light to proceed on their $300 million privately-funded Overtown project. The Beckham group aims to have its 25,000-seat stadium completed by the start of the 2020 MLS season, in time to potentially host World Cup qualifying matches preceding the 2022 and 2026 Cups.
While his chief negotiator Tim Leiweke has been navigating city and county politics to get the land purchase done, Beckham has been working behind the scenes with a marketing team on the club’s name, colors, logo, and also thinking about a training facility and youth academy.
But none of those things will be revealed until MLS approves the deal. Beckham’s group has to formally present its final stadium package and ownership group to the league owners for review. Their next meeting is Aug. 2 in Chicago during the All-Star Weekend; although, they could meet by teleconference sooner if needed.
“First and foremost is league approval, which if I had to guess, would take weeks, not months,” Leiweke said. “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. But we don’t want to get ahead of anybody. [Tuesday] was an extremely big step.”
First and foremost is league approval, which if I had to guess, would take weeks, not months. 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.
Tim Leiweke, Beckham United chief negotiator
MLS executives have long supported the idea of a team in soccer-crazed Miami, a team that would serve as the league’s gateway to Latin America; but they have been waiting three years for Beckham to finalize a viable stadium deal and assemble a committed and deep-pocketed ownership group.
Now that it appears he has met the criteria, it is up to the MLS Board of Governors to rubber stamp the deal. A league operations group is traveling to Miami to conduct a site visit in the next few days, which Leiweke viewed as a positive sign.
MLS commissioner Don Garber and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott, who oversees expansion, were not available for interviews on Tuesday. But minutes after the Miami-Dade Commissioners’ 9-4 vote Tuesday afternoon, the league sent out a statement: “We are pleased the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners ratified Mayor Gimenez’s recommendation to sell David Beckham and his partners additional land for the proposed soccer stadium site. We appreciate the support of the Mayor and the County Commissioners to assist in efforts to try to bring a Major League Soccer expansion team to Miami.”
In 2007, when Beckham signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy, a clause was inserted into his contract that gave him the option, upon retirement, to own an MLS franchise for an expansion fee of $25 million.
That was a reasonable price at the time. Toronto FC paid $10 million to enter the league in 2007, the Seattle Sounders and Philadelphia Union paid $30 million in 2009, and Vancouver and Portland each paid $35 million when they joined in 2011.
Orlando City and Atlanta United, which is averaging 45,000 fans in its inaugural season, paid $70 million. The price jacked up to $100 million when the New York Yankees and Manchester City teamed up to buy a franchise. The league entrance fee is now up to $150 million.
Beckham decided to become a team owner in late-2013, and requested that his team be in Miami. In February 2014, he visited Miami and said: “I know this city is ready for soccer and this is going to be successful...We are very excited, Miami is a vibrant city with a lot of passion. I am looking forward to spending a lot more time here and my family being here.
“We are making a soccer club that is going to loved by millions of people. We plan on this being a global team.”
His ownership group includes Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, producer Simon Fuller, sport executive Leiweke and billionaire Todd Boehly, who is part-owner of the L.A. Dodgers and was involved in a bid for the Tottenham Hotspurs of the English Premier League.
There were rumblings that a few MLS owners don’t find it fair that Boehly is entering MLS ownership by piggybacking on Beckham’s $25 million franchise fee — but that sentiment is not believed to be strong enough to hold back the deal.
“We’d like to be playing in 2020, if that’s what league requests, and that means we’ve got to get going,” Leiweke said. “We have to get going on the stadium. We have committed $25 million toward a world class development academy, a training facility for our team and youth teams. That’s a high priority.”
We’d like to be playing in 2020, if that’s what league requests, and that means we’ve got to get going. We have to get going on the stadium. We have committed $25 million toward a world class development academy, a training facility for our team and youth teams. That’s a high priority.
Tim Leiweke, Beckham United chief negotiator
Some possible sites for the training center are Doral, West Kendall, Barry University and FIU North campus.
“We believe we’ve crossed two very important thresholds in the past few months,” Leiweke said. “We have assembled and purchased all the land. We control our own destiny. And, we have an ownership group that’s as good as any in MLS, and has the wherewithal to do this project and do it well.”
As for when Beckham may be making his next visit to Miami, Leiweke replied: “My guess is you’ll see David soon. Very soon.”