Yes, Miami, it finally happened.
David Beckham was officially awarded a Miami Major League Soccer team Monday after a four-year odyssey beset by more twists and turns than he ever imagined when he smiled at a bayside news conference on Feb. 5, 2014, and announced his plans.
Many South Florida fans and observers worldwide had given up hope on the seemingly never-ending project, but the English soccer icon and his partners finally checked all the boxes to the liking of MLS officials, who had been cautious in awarding the 25th franchise after the league’s original Miami team, the Miami Fusion, folded in 2002 following its fourth season.
The new team is scheduled to begin play in 2020, probably at a temporary site until the permanent stadium is ready in 2021. Hard Rock Stadium, FIU Stadium, and Marlins Park, were mentioned as possible temporary sites, or some combination of the three.
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The team name, logo and colors will be rolled out in the next few months, with input from fans. There had been hints black and white would be in the color scheme, but owners said fans will be invited to suggest ideas via an international social media campaign in the coming weeks.
Beckham’s team became a reality at a glitzy noon ceremony at the Adrienne Arsht Center. An audience of 1,700 and 300 media members were on hand for the big moment, when MLS Commissioner Don Garber gave Beckham and his partners league scarves as a sign of the done deal. A special piece of music by Emilio Estefan played in the background.
“I promised my son, who is here today, that I wouldn’t get emotional,” Beckham told the crowd. “But it’s very hard.”
“Luckily, this four years of pain, at times, has taught me that sometimes you go through certain moments where it’s difficult,” Beckham told the Miami Herald minutes before the ceremony. “But there’s a reason why it’s taken this long. If I hadn’t gone through those times, I wouldn’t have met these guys [pointing to Miami co-owners Jorge and Jose Mas], guys who are passionate about this city and this sport. It’s like the weather [Monday]. You walk out the door and it’s raining, then you walk out another door and it’s sun. That’s kind of like the journey it’s been the last four years. There have been moments I got off a phone call and I’m excited and it’s happening, and I wake up the next morning and it’s all gone.”
Beckham confirmed he will oversee the soccer aspect of the team, and plans to be a very hands-on owner.
“Anything I do in my life — business, family, I’m in 120 percent,” Beckham said. “And that’s the only way I see to be successful. I’ve played this game for many years. I’ve been lucky to have played in some of the biggest clubs in the world, under some of the biggest managers, with some of the best players. So, my experience is in football, so that is what I bring this ownership group.
“I’m going to be spending a huge amount of time here. I love this city. I’ve gotten to know it even more over the past four years.”
Asked whether he has heard from any players who want to join his club, Beckham smiled and said: “I’ve been hearing from players for the last four years, from the moment we announced, I had players on the phone to me. Obviously, I won’t say who they are, but we have a lot of work to do before we get to that point.”
He did reveal his team “won’t be defensive,” but rather play a “vibrant, attacking” style.
He said he wants his team to be a combination of big names that fans recognize and young players who come through the team’s development academy. There are plans to build a world-class academy with at least 10 fields that can also be used for visiting national and club teams, and tournaments. “There is a hotbed of talent here, and that is where our future players and fans will come from,” he said.
A celebrity congratulations video shown at the ceremony included well wishes from tennis star Serena Williams, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, soccer star Neymar, runner Usain Bolt, and entertainers DJ Khaled, Jay-Z, Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez.
Among the guests in the theater were 150 members of the team’s Southern Legion supporters group, who marched together from AmericanAirlines Arena to the event, unfurled a giant banner, and serenaded Beckham with a personalized-version of “Guantanamera”: “One David Beckham, there’s only one David Beckham, one David Beck-ham, there’s only one David Beckham.”
The gloomy weather wasn’t ideal for the march, but that wasn’t going to stop these diehard fans, who finally have a real team to support.
“We are so charged, so hyped that we haven’t been able to sleep for two nights,” said Julio Caballero, president and co-founder of the fan club. “Other people gave up, but we never did.”
Max Ramos, another member of the group, added: “I was tired of going to commission meetings, tired of being a supporter of an idea. Now, I can support an actual team, and I can’t wait to plan marches and tailgate parties.
Beckham was flanked by his ownership-group partners — Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, who had been trying since 2008 to bring MLS to Miami; MasTec Chairman and co-founder Jorge Mas and MasTec CEO Jose R. Mas, late additions to the group, but instrumental as they are deeply-entrenched in Miami; and Simon Fuller, entertainment entrepreneur and creator of “American Idol.” Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son, who is also a part-owner, was not in attendance.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez and City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez were also part of the ceremony, which was emceed by Univision’s Ramses Sandoval and live-streamed globally on MLSSoccer.com.
The team is expected to begin playing in 2021 at a 25,000-seat, $200 million privately-funded stadium to be built in Overtown, at the intersection of Northwest Sixth Street and Sixth Avenue, although owners are still exploring other sites.
Beckham initially dreamed of a waterfront stadium, and tried to cut a deal for a site at the county-owned Port Miami.
But some key members of the cruise industry blocked that proposal, leading to another failed waterfront bid for a stadium at the boat slip next to AmericanAirlines Arena. Plan C was adjacent to Marlins Park in Little Havana, but that didn’t work out, either. So, Beckham’s group settled on the Overtown site a few blocks from the Miami River.
Bruce Matheson, a wealthy landowner whose years-long legal battle with the Miami Open tennis tournament led to its leaving its 30-year-old Key Biscayne site in 2019 for Hard Rock Stadium, is suing to overturn the no-bid county deal for Beckham’s Overtown stadium.
The stadium is being designed by Kansas City-based Populous, a global architectural firm that specializes in the design of sports stadiums and arenas. The firm is responsible for more than 18 Major League Baseball ballparks, including Marlins Park, Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Coors Field in Denver, and Progressive Field in Cleveland. They also have designed NFL and NBA venues, and soccer stadiums all over the world.
Jorge Mas said there are plans to have a fan plaza outside the stadium, and a March to the Match along the Miami River, similar to the pre-match march Sounders fans do in Seattle. He said they are exploring options for parking, and Claure, who is on the Board of Directors of Uber, suggested that he will use that connection to facilitate share-rides to the stadium.
Beckham, 42, becomes a team owner as part of the player contract he signed with MLS in 2007. The deal stipulated that after he finished playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy, he would have the chance to purchase an expansion team at a reduced rate. Sources said Beckham and his partners paid between $50 million to $75 million for the team, and plan to spend another $200 million on the stadium, academy and team operations. Other recent expansion fees have topped $100 million.
When Beckham joined MLS, the league had 12 teams. It has doubled. The average attendance in 2007 was 15,504 and has increased 42 percent to 22,106. Beckham is credited with raising the profile of the league, and the addition of his Miami team is expected to expand the league’s global reach.
“The passion exists for this team,” said Jorge Mas. “This is a community of Colombians, Brazilians, Venezuelans, Argentines, Cubans, Mexicans, this is a global mosaic of cultures with a passion for soccer. We want to create an atmosphere that feeds off that passion, with the beat of the drums, and the celebrating before and after games. I think there are more soccer fans here than of any other sport. I think we will not only fill the stadium, but have the best atmosphere in the whole league.”