Miami Reality

There is a lot of commentary around David Beckham’s new Miami venture. This is a definitive piece on the journey so far to add some perspective to the furore.

 

1,454 days after pledging to bring major league soccer to Miami, David Beckham came good on his word.

Monday 29th January 2018 brought an end to the turbulent four-year saga for the would-be Miami club; one tormented by city politics in pursuit of the land they needed for the stadium they required to launch the franchise in South Florida.

All that is now behind them.

FINALLY

Ever since being pencilled as the 24th franchise of Major League Soccer in February 2014 – little by little – the dream began to fall apart.

The cruise industry defined their opening chapter following its rejection of the Beckham group’s proposal to locate their franchise at the Port of Miami.

Next, their endeavour to establish a waterfront site in Downtown Miami was shot down.

Nine months passed by before more news emerged. At this point – November 2015 – fast approaching two years since the initial announcement, another proposal was derailed; this time, to set themselves up as neighbours to the Miami Marlins in Little Havana. The Beckham group again walked away frustrated.

Another year went by.

Now, in December 2016 and facing the very real threat of 12 other US candidate cities vying for their place at the top table of American soccer, a 4th site was brought to the fore. But not without its problems.

OVERTOWN

The land identified was in the Overtown neighbourhood of Miami, close to the  river; a collective of sites to be brought together as one to create the total space they needed.

Six acres of the land were acquired privately for £14.7million. But a further three acres of land – which were required – were county owned, and its acquisition meant approval from Miami council.

Yet again at the mercy of local politics, the venture again went into limbo.

IN THE MEANTIME

The group went about proving they belonged there anyway.

Agitating behind the scenes, they canvassed support from city commissioners by showing what a contribution to the city – beyond the disruption of bringing a football franchise – looked like.

They calmed fears of traffic complications by pitching a strategy to keep cars away from the stadium area through developed public transportation and a “March to the Match” initiative to parade fans en masse, via foot, to the stadium on game day.

At the same time, they unveiled a 25,000-seat, open-roof stadium. Privately-funded, it would be unreliant on subsidies, and would instead give back to the city through county property tax.

As community partners, the message for the city council was clear: their proposal was a different proposition altogether.

THEN CAME JUNE 6TH 2017

A turning point in the history of Miami-Beckham United: the day their fate changed.

At the forth time of asking, Miami City council formally endorsed the sale of the $9million three-acre plot of land they required to get a stadium off the ground.

The group were free to pursue their dream with gusto.

NOT BEFORE ONE FINAL HICCUP

After Miami City Council’s approval, the group needed a vote of confidence from Major League Soccer’s Board of Governors to officially be granted a spot in the league.

But at the 11th hour, the group underwent a major organisational restructuring.

Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner, Todd Boehly had been brought in as one of the group’s top investors, and was seen as a key piece of the puzzle in financing the project. But – and while exact circumstances surrounding his departure are unclear – he was replaced in favour of a more evenly weighted ownership structure.

What emerged instead was the addition of two of Miami’s most prominent business executives – the Mas brothers, Jorge and Jose Mas – embedding them in with local Miami; and a third addition, Masayoshi Son, giving the club – and MLS – a conduit to the Asian market as well as the support of a $23 billion net worth.

THE GREATEST OF INVESTMENTS NEARS A RETURN

When Beckham joined Major League Soccer in 2007, his contract included an incentive to launch an expansion franchise for a discounted $25 million (the figure MLS now charges for entry is $150 million). So given hearsay estimates that this franchise could be worth the $500 million mark by the time they take the field, this could well be the best move Beckham has ever made.

It has been complicated process to say the least. Partly by Miami being one of the fastest-growing real estate markets. Partly by its make-up as a sporting market generally. And third, complicated by its political structure. But all that can now be put behind them.

The groundwork for a club has been done. What is important now is that Miami is actually ready for a club.

THE REAL WORK STARTS

As the only top-10 market in the US without Major League Soccer, the appetite for it in Miami is high, but the team is launching into a rapidly changing MLS and US-soccer landscape.

Soccer has exploded in the past decade and is well on its way to becoming a bona fide contender for the nations sporting attention.

But the bar for success is not about making up the numbers. Beckham’s fame, the PR fanfare, Miami’s glittering lure… they are all fleeting commentary. There are big expectations from this investment. This is about creating a legacy.

THE DOLPHINS, THE HEAT, THE MARLINS…

This is a sports town built on success. But right now, who’s next is undecided.

Details about what would be next were scant at the launch announcement, such as whether reports the team would begin competing in 2020 were accurate or not, when its stadium would get the go ahead to start construction, but most notably there was no confirmation of a name – nor logo or general branding – for the new franchise.

No doubt this will happen with input from fans over the next few months. For now, its just guesswork whether the choice of name goes down a more exotic route like original MLS teams – the Chicago Fire’s and Montreal Impact’s – or whether it will be more soccer-evangelist, such as the new wave of entrants – the Los Angeles Football Club’s and Minnesota United’s.

Whatever they decide, their brand must be as exciting as the journey it’s been on.

BECKHAM THE PLAYER TO BECKHAM THE OWNER

Simply put. MLS wouldn’t be what it is today without David Beckham.

January 2017 marked a decade since he became perhaps the most significant signing in sport history, giving MLS the injection of legitimacy, global exposure and recognition it needed to shift up gears when he joined Los Angeles Galaxy.

His arrival has been a yardstick of MLS’ progress ever since. He represented a statement of intent and signalled a moment in time for them to realise how big they could be.

This was MLS two point zero: new stadiums, more teams, better players.. He was the tipping point for that next generation of growth. And for that reason, the league will always be viewed through a lens of a ‘pre’ and a ‘post-Beckham’ era.

In the decade since Beckham, MLS grew from 14 to now 24 teams. In Beckham’s first season the average attendance at MLS games was 16,770, last season it reached 21,692. Teams were valued at $35million back then and did not have a lucrative TV deal. Now, a handful of team valuations exceed $200million while the league is bringing in more than $70 million annually in national TV deals.

The irony is the league has grown so much since then, they have grown beyond what David Beckham represented to them. He was a strategy right for that time. Today the focus is different. They don’t need another David Beckham. The league doesn’t need to grandstand. It’s proof of concept has evolved in terms of how it spends money on talent.

But what is most important is that the sport has grown to its most popular. A sport that had a glimpse of mainstream success in the 70’s, faded into obscurity and then slowly came back from the fringes, is now mainstream.

Beckham’s signing was a leading charge behind this. And now as an owner, the cache behind the Beckham brand will continue to have a powerful impact on the sport of soccer, and enact a similar effect in Miami.

FROM BRAND BECKHAM TO BRAND MIAMI

Beckham certainly has an allure, but that allure will be a dissipating advantage the bigger the club gets. And that is how it should be.

This club already has a journey, now they need a sense of purpose to achieve their full potential.

This is what LAFC did so well. They created a purpose and culture around their club which their fans could be part of.

Miami is a difficult sports market because of a transient population. Their challenge is making this population feel part of something worthwhile, like it is their club.

Now there is no longer a worry about the precarity of their existence, they have the opportunity to get creative. This is a club who won’t have any players for a year or so, and will not kick a ball for two or three years. But all that doesn’t matter when you have fans.

They need to lay their stall out for fans to gather for something bigger than soccer, to allow them to feel rewarded, and part of, the journey the club are on. This is about building a fan base around their story, and making their gestures matter. They must start a meaningful recalibration with the city of Miami. If they can get the city emotionally connected, they’ll make it sustainable.

HOW BIG CAN THEY BE?

That’s the real question.

Beckham’s original pledge to bring an MLS franchise to Miami is complete. The pledge now pivots from simply being ‘in-existence’ to ‘becoming something exceptional’.

Major League Soccer has long desired to expand into Miami. And now the time is right for Miami to be a Major League Soccer city and deliver the soccer franchise that Miami has been waiting for. A team that makes the city proud, a stadium that becomes a place to be, and makes an impact in the community that runs deep.

So Miami might have become a reality, but it is not a conclusion. The future of soccer in Miami starts now.

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