David Beckham’s odyssey to bring Major League Soccer to Miami, fraught with delays and snags for nearly four years, is expected to finally reach a happy conclusion with the official granting of the team expected as early as late January.
The MLS Board of Governors met in New York City on Thursday and approved Beckham’s newly structured ownership group, which includes Miami moguls Jorge and Jose Mas and Japanese multibillionaire Masayoshi Son, chairman of Sprint and SoftBank. Beckham’s longtime business partner, entertainment giant Simon Fuller, remains in the group, as does Sprint CEO and part-time Miami resident Marcelo Claure.
Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly, who was brought in last April to be the majority partner of the Beckham group, is no longer involved. The role of chief negotiator and partner Tim Leiweke is expected to be reduced, as well.
“Jorge and José Mas, Miami-based leaders of telecommunications giant MasTec and philanthropists with deep, generational ties to the South Florida community, and Japanese entrepreneur and SoftBank founder and CEO Masayoshi Son, today were approved by Major League Soccer’s Board of Governors as additional owners of Miami’s prospective MLS expansion club,” said a statement released by MLS. “A further announcement on the team is expected to be made prior to the start of the 2018 MLS regular season.”
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The Miami Beckham United Group, through spokesman Tadd Schwartz, had this to say about Thursday’s development:
“Major League Soccer’s approval of our ownership group is a major step toward bringing the world’s most popular sport to one of its most cosmopolitan and diverse cities — Miami. What began as a vision shared by Marcelo Claure, David Beckham and Simon Fuller is now on its way to becoming reality with the addition of Jorge and Jose Mas and Masayoshi “Masa” Son to our ownership group.”
The combination of the newly assembled owners “brings local expertise, global perspective, an unquestionable track record of business success and one of the foremost icons in global soccer,” said the Beckham group release. “Our group will build a world-class franchise that reflects the people, values and history of the Miami community. This will be a club that Miami fans are proud to call their own. Our partners have been working tirelessly over the past month to transform a common vision and strategy into the fulfillment of today’s decision.”
Sources indicated the Mas brothers and Son were well-received by the owners, several of whom were familiar with them from the tech world and the Mas family’s recent bid to buy the Marlins. The stakes in the new investment group are expected to be more evenly divided than they would have been with Boehly, which should sit well with some MLS owners who were critical of Boehly getting into the league by piggy-backing on Beckham’s deeply discounted franchise fee of $25 million that was one of the perks of the $250 million contract he signed with the league 10 years ago. The current entry fee is $150 million.
The league leadership also was looking for more of a local representation in the Beckham ownership group, and they get that with the Mas brothers, who belong to one of Miami’s most prominent and wealthy Cuban-American families. Their late father, Jorge Mas Canosa, was a vocal leader of the exile community.
Jorge Mas is the chairman of the board and largest shareholder of MasTec, an infrastructure construction firm that made $5.1 billion last year and employs more than 15,000 people. Son’s involvement “will strengthen our club’s global brand and put us in position to build a fan base stretching from the Americas to Asia,” said the Beckham statement.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in his State of the League address last Friday that he remained “confident” they would work out a deal and suggested a local owner would help overcome some of the hurdles the group has faced.
“It is the most complicated situation in any market that we’ve experienced, at least in my 18 years,” Garber began. “Part of it has been complicated by the Miami market generally. It’s a difficult sports market. The second part of that is that it’s one of the fastest-growing value markets as it relates to their real estate. Third is the political structure. There’s a variety of different mayors all for the same space.
“And, part of it is we’ve needed a local owner because we’ve seen that in at least in the success of some of those Miami teams, having a local owner has been one of the factors. So, we’ve needed to get finalization of the land. The lawsuit on that land, the appeal was turned down last week. We’ve been working hard to find a local owner for David Beckham. I feel comfortable that will come together.”
Garber concluded by affirming that MLS never gave up on the idea of a Miami team.
“I continue to say we want Miami in the league,” Garber said. “It’s a large market. It’s a gateway city. There are a lot of values to us having a team down there and I remain confident we’ll get something done.”
The Beckham group has already secured a nine-acre stadium site in Overtown, of which three acres is owned by Miami-Dade County, which has agreed to sell the land to Beckham for $9 million. That sale is being contested in court by nearby-land owner Bruce Matheson. A judge recently sided with the county’s use of state economic-development laws to approve the sale, but Matheson is appealing.
MLS and Beckham sources said they do not expect that suit to be a deal-breaker. The City of Miami must also approve zoning changes for the site. The plan is for the Miami MLS team to begin play in 2020.