There were barely clad women dancing in feather headdresses, like a casting call for Carnival in Rio. Hip-hop and Latin music pounded loud, like it would in South Beach clubs at 3 a.m. Confetti cannons boomed to punctuate the event. Hundreds of fans waiting for this day to finally arrive chanted and cheered. One held a sign that read, MIAMI. PREPARE FOR GLORY, with a picture of the cause of this celebration in dramatic, heroic profile, wearing a Roman gladiator’s helmet.
Never let it be said that David Beckham cannot make an entrance, or that Major League Soccer arrived quietly Monday in a city that prefers loud.
This was the day Miami officially became the MLS’ 25th franchise, set to begin play in March of 2020. With the announcement Miami becomes only the 10th U.S. city or metropolitan region to have all of the big four American professional team sports — football, baseball, basketball and hockey — plus a team in the country’s premier soccer league.
It took awhile. MLS was here almost four years ago to the day to announce that Beckham, the former English soccer star and heartthrob, had chosen Miami for his expansion-team dream. Political red tape, wrangling over stadium sites and ownership/financing issues would be worked through, thanks largely to the powerhouse Mas family giving Beckham the heavyweight local partners he lacked.
“They say great things come to those who wait,” noted MLS commissioner Don Garber.
This was the biggest South Florida civic announcement of its kind in a quarter century, since the area landed Major League Baseball and NHL hockey teams at the same time in the early ’90s.
The wait for top-level soccer goes back even further. The area had the Fort Lauderdale-based Miami Fusion for four seasons in MLS from 1998 to 2001, but that was a time when the league was struggling, close to folding, and the Fusion had ownership that was lacking, and played in a high school football stadium.
Miami’s return to MLS finds the league booming, a new, privately financed stadium in the works and a dream-team ownership group that also includes the CEO of Sprint and the founder of Japan’s SoftBank in addition to the heft of Miami’s MasTec and the glamor of the man out front, Beckham.
So new Marlins boss Derek Jeter had about a minute and half as Miami’s most famous sports team owner, because Beckham’s international stardom and global reach exceeds Jeter’s. As does his ability to attract one of his sport’s deepest-pocketed ownership groups.
Monday’s announcement was a flashy, brassy introduction befitting the glamor that is the orbit around Beckham. It was held at the Knight Concert Hall adjunct to the Arsht Center, places accustomed to tony, upscale entertainment but on this day partying, Miami-style.
What a contrast to when the Marlins and Florida Panthers arrived in ’93 with announcements that were formal news conferences, not fan events.
This time drums beat and whistles blew and if you could hear it above the merry din, the talk was big. Very.
The hopes for this as-yet-unnamed soccer team are unabashedly ambitious, both in terms of the league and of the Miami sports market.
“I promise you the team we bring into this league will be one of the best teams — the best team,” Beckham told the swooning crowd.
“The world’s most successful sports franchise,” Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure described the goal.
Beckham and MLS see a perfect marriage between the world’s most international sport and a richly diverse Miami culture that has proved time and time again it will support quality soccer. And Beckham wanted Miami as much as the league did.
“Perhaps the most important American soccer market,” Garber called Miami.
The new owners believe Miami’s MLS team will resonate with a younger demographic and become the most passionately supported team in this market as well as the winningest. They even believe that in time MLS Miami will gain a following and stature that rivals even the flagship Dolphins and hugely popular Heat.
Hey, if you’re going to dream, dream big, right?
“This is a city built on dreams,” as Beckham put it.
Jorge Mas, son of parents who fled Cuba’s tyranny, can testify.
“This is a cultural mosaic that represents what is best in America,” he called Miami. “And we’re going to make this city proud. This is going to be the franchise.”
That’s big talk.
Now we have two years to savor, to anticipate and to watch as David Beckham’s dream becomes a team.