Beckham and Don Garber, the commissioner of M.L.S., announced the awarding of the new team at a news conference in Miami today. The team will not begin play in M.L.S. until at least 2016. This really was no surprise to anyone, this has been in the works for while. I tracked Beckham down at the Super Bowl, chilling with Lewis Hamilton and yes it was confirmed the game was on.
The league values its association with Beckham. As part of his original contract when he joined M.L.S. as a player in 2007, he was granted the right to buy a team — with some limits on its location — for what would be the below-market rate of $25 million.
Beckham narrowed his sights to South Florida last year after retiring as a player, and the league has held off on the awarding of the team only because it requires new clubs to have a stadium plan in place. Beckham’s ownership group does not yet have a completed stadium deal, but Wednesday’s announcement will be a sign that the league is confident one is close.
The league has let the requirement slide in the past. New York City F.C. was announced as the league’s 20th team last year, after paying a reported fee of close to $100 million, but it still does not even have a temporary home for its first season, in 2015. Orlando City, which was named M.L.S.’s 21st team in November, has a stadium deal in place and will also begin play in 2015.
M.L.S. is sure to welcome Beckham as an owner, but getting a stadium for the team in Miami will not be easy, because of political pressures and a vibrant real estate market that has driven up prices. Yet all in Miami are thrilled at the prospect.
Discussions have centered on a piece of county-owned land near the city’s seaport, Port-Miami, where cruise lines and cargo ships dock. But that property was slated for commercial development, and putting a stadium there instead could represent a loss of revenue for the county. To win county approval, the owners of the stadium might have to make market-rate payments. This is a world where a stadium, hotel, condos, cinema’s, call all coexist as Toronto has proven, with the Rogers Stadium.
Even then, it is unclear how soon a stadium might be built, though the team could presumably play a year or two at a temporary home like the Miami Dolphins’ stadium in Miami Gardens or at Florida International University in Miami. New York City F.C. has said that it plans to take that approach and that it expects to announce a temporary home in the next few weeks.
There are also political hurdles for Beckham’s Miami team. Carlos A. Gimenez, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, has opposed the use of public money for privately operated sports facilities. Before becoming the mayor, he was one of the few county commissioners to oppose the use of hundreds of millions of dollars in public money to help the Miami Marlins build a stadium, and he questioned whether the Dolphins should be given tax dollars to refurbish their privately owned stadium. Reaction to the deal to help the Marlins cost several top politicians their jobs, and Gimenez, who will attend Wednesday’s news conference, would be loath to change course suddenly to help build a soccer stadium.
The Beckham team, and the arrival of Orlando City, would mark the second — and, the league no doubt hopes, more successful — venture into the Florida market for M.L.S. The Tampa Bay Mutiny were a charter member of the league in 1996, and the Miami Fusion joined M.L.S. two years later in an earlier era of expansion. But both clubs struggled to attract fans, or a workable permanent home, in a market that has been difficult to navigate for sports teams, and the league shuttered both clubs in 2001. The move left M.L.S. with 10 teams.
The arrival of two new Florida teams in the next few years, along with a potential team in Atlanta operated by the Falcons’ owner, Arthur Blank, could be the start of a new Southern strategy for M.L.S. Garber has repeatedly said that he envisions an M.L.S. with up to 24 clubs. Spy Girl was on the scene today in Miami for the news.