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It Seems To Me. . .

Beckham faces complicated road to join Florida's return to MLS.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

(Wednesday, May 7, 2014) -- Twelve years ago, Major League Soccer threw in the towel in Florida, shutting down the Tampa Bay Rowdies, while Ken Horowitz , the owner\operator of the Miami Fusion cried, "No más" and called it quits.

In October, MLS expanded to add Orlando City SC. Now, David Beckham, the former star of England and MLS's Los Angeles Galaxy, hopes to take advantage of a clause written into his first MLS player contract to conditionally obtain the rights to a Miami franchise, pending securing of a financing plan and the location and funding for a new soccer-specific stadium.

The going rate for a new MLS franchise is $100 million -- that reportedly is what has been paid by the new Orlando and New York City teams, as well as the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers. While it is not completely clear whether this fee has been all in actual cash -- as opposed to an in-kind contribution -- and over how many years the entry fee can be paid. The general understanding is the Beckham will be getting his franchise for the bargain basement price of $25 million.

Beckham faces a myriad of challenges before his team ever steps on the field. His investor group has not been specifically identified, but rumor has it that it includes a group of deep-pocket New York real estate types, led by developer John Alschuler, who looks at a new Miami soccer stadium as the centerpiece of a large mixed-use development. Another prominent name as a Beckham backer is Miami-based billionaire investor Marcelo Claure.

Private talks are going on between the Beckham team and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and his people.

(An aside: the Miami Herald is reporting that the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust is specifically investigating whether Beckham broke local law by meeting with Mayor Gimenez as early as last November without having first registered as a lobbyist since he was talking about a proposal that would require official action.)

The Beckham group has unveiled preliminary plans to build a $200-million stadium that could seat up to 35,000 on a nine-acre site near the shallows of Port Miami's southwest corner. This is just down the road from American Airlines Arena where the National Basketball Association Miami Heat plays. But the port has already made a proposal itself to develop the site into a trade and tourism center that could contain as much as seven-million square feet of new revenue-generating space.

The port has estimated the site would generate at least $3 million a year in rent from hotels, office space, restaurants and shops. as envisioned in its 2011 master plan. Would the Beckham group be willing to pay $3 million in rent? That is an open question.

So, where to put a stadium is the first hurdle and tied to that decision is where to play until a new stadium is completed. MLS would like the new Miami team to be ready for the 2016 season and the earliest a new facility could be ready is 2018, and that is if the Miami-Dade County Commission were to give quick approval to the Port-Miami site plan.

The second and perhaps a more difficult hurdle will be getting paying fans into the seats. Over the years of, first, the old North American Soccer League, and then MLS, I saw many soccer matches played in Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium, a former high school venue converted into a soccer-specific stadium for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the NASL and, later, for the Fusion which reluctantly played in the stadium after a bid to play in Miami's now razed Orange Bowl fell through.

We could spend a great deal of time discussion why the Fusion under Horowitz failed but, clearly, no matter how inept and stumbling an owner he was, he never managed to attract many fans living in Miami to make the drive up Interstate- 95 to Fort Lauderdale.

Will these fans turn out for a stadium located near downtown? Beckham says he will use the success of the Seattle Sounders as his model. Will he be able to come even close to the fervent fan support the Sounders experience?

By the way, local media in Miami is reporting the proposed new team will be called the Miami Vice, the Miami Current or an undisclosed name tied to a corporate sponsor. How neat would the Miami Vice be with its obvious theme song?

So Beckham has a long way to go before his new Miami Whatevers step onto the field. Can he attract the money needed to make things happen? That is to be seen. Does he have the celebrity to draw players to his team and fans, perhaps like the NBA Heat has done? Only time will tell. His success is far from a given, but it sure has been interesting watching him try.


Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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