Finally, after three and a half years of facing hurdles and navigating a complicated web of local politics, David Beckham’s quest for a Major League Soccer team in Miami is “at the finish line,” according to league commissioner Don Garber.
MLS owners are meeting in Chicago Wednesday morning as part of All-Star Week, and Beckham’s expansion bid is on the agenda. Beckham was expected at a dinner with league officials Tuesday night, and his group will present the latest details of their privately-funded $300 million Overtown project at the Board of Governors meeting Wednesday.
The owners could vote to approve the deal as is, giving Beckham and his partners the green light they need to move forward, or they could approve it contingent on the group fulfilling a few more requirements.
“We are at the finish line after nine years of work to be sure, if we go to Miami, we get it right,” Garber told the Herald during a Facebook Live interview on Tuesday. “David had an option, but that option couldn’t be exercised without having him satisfy all the things that all team owners need to satisfy – the right capital structure with his partners, the right stadium plan, the right marketing and business plans, and we’re at that point where I think we are getting ready to make the decisions internally to go forward.”
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Garber stopped short of saying he expected full approval of the deal on Wednesday.
“It’s a vote, votes can go any which way,” Garber said. “We’re not there yet. I think we’ve got work to do. And perhaps, coming out of that board meeting is not an approval, but a handful of things that need to happen to get that approval, at which point, perhaps weeks later, we’re able to go down to Miami and talk about what our plans might be.”
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 tournaments.
Miami Beckham United recently purchased the final three-acre parcel of land it needed from Miami-Dade County for $9 million. They 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 on Key Biscayne, filed a lawsuit seeking to block the county's sale of the Overtown land to Beckham, but league and Beckham sources said they don’t expect that to halt their plans.
According to sources familiar with the negotiations, a few owners have been grumbling about the fact that Beckham got a discounted expansion fee of $25 million as part of a contract he signed with MLS in 2007 and that his co-investors are piggy-backing on that fee while the league entrance fee is now up to $150 million for new investors.
Beckham’s investment group includes his business partner and American Idol creator Simon Fuller, Eldridge Industries CEO and part-owner of the L.A Dodgers Todd Boehy, Sprint CEO and part-time Miami resident Marcelo Claure, and Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke, a sports executive who has become the Beckham’s chief negotiator in the deal.
Back when Beckham and MLS signed the deal ten years ago, $25 million was a reasonable price, and the thinking was Beckham, an icon in the sports and fashion world, would elevate the status and value of the league worldwide. 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 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.
Leiweke said in June that Beckham was 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.
“First and foremost is league approval,” 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. 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.
“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.”