Today marks one of the most anticipated endeavours by a British celebrity in the past 100 years. Yes, you guessed it. The final novel in the Harry Potter series is being released. Nerds everywhere are experiencing a sense of excitement that hasn't come since the Paul, John, George, and Ringo made their debut onto the music scene. (And for the record I bought the book this morning so don't think I am singling anyone out.)
And in case you haven't been paying attention to the press lately there is another British legend making his way to the U.S. as well. That would the man with the golden foot, and equally golden skinned wife, David Beckham. The 32 year old footballer who is quite possibly the most famous in the world begins his assault on America tonight in an exhibition match versus Chelsea FC, depending if his ankle holds up. Some soccer novices will call him soft if he doesn't appear tonight, but Beckham is smart enough to ignore the whispers. He is involved in a 5 year investment and nobody, the MLS or him, stand to benefit from him further injuring an ankle at such an early stage in his MLS career.
But even if he doesn't play Beckham is bringing with him the star power that would make Vincent Chase from Entourage embarrassed. The man with the great looks, million dollar endorsement deals, and foot blessed by God is coming folks. And if you didn't know this by now then I would suggest you come out of your cave. I, for one, have been a Beckham fan for years, and have for a long time worn my Manchester United jersey with his name on the back proudly.
Months ago the MLS sent shockwaves through the sports world when they signed Becks to a reported 250 million dollar contract for 5 years.Beckham has a history a mile long, both on and off the field. He burst onto the soccer scene with Manchester United, dazzling fans with fantastic free kicks that would make anyone's jaw drop. But he hit a tremendous low when he was ejected from the 1998 World Cup match versus Argentina. Beckham has since said that he received death threats from football fanatics for over three years. But his career continued to skyrocket as he became the captain of the English national team and came in second place in 1999 as European Footballer of the Year.
His relationship with Man. U deteriorated however and he went to Real Madrid in 2003. The Beckham hype seemed to reach an all-time high then as he teamed with Ronaldo, Zidane, and others to make the "galactico" squad. He then played on the 2006 England squad and was one of the few bright spots on a disappointing team. He was unceremoniously removed from the England team, following a benching on Real Madrid when he announced his transfer to the U.S. But Beckham's hard work ethic and great attitude paid off. His play rose again and he was asked to rejoin the England team, and helped lead Real Madrid to the La Liga title.
For those who think Becks is just a washed up player you may want to think again.He is arguably the best dead ball player in the game and a tremendous passer with unparalleled crossing ability. He is ranked as one of the top 35 soccer players in the world. But what made him worth the money to the MLS is his ability to transcend the sport. It's not noticed as much in America but Beckham's star power worldwide rivals that of Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. He often had drawn criticism for being more of a celebrity than hardnosed player, but much of this comes from jealousy, as well as bitterness from players too stupid to realize that they too gain fame when he brings fans to their games with his popularity. And he is VERY popular. In a segment on ESPN a few years ago it was reported that any brand of clothing Beckham is seen wearing on a particular day sells out immediately. The player didn't have a movie, Bend it like Beckham, named after him on accident.
Like Pele before him the soccer stud agreed to come to America with the hopes of sparking interest in the world's most popular game. Can he do it? Before we address the chances of Beckham's attempt to be the MLS's savior it is important to get some of the facts straight.
Beckham is not getting the $250 million dollar pay-day that has been widely reported by the media. In fact he isn't getting anywhere near that much. League sources claim that Beckham's guaranteed salary will be around $50 million over 5 years. While that is nothing to turn your back on it definitely is not the astronomical number we all were led to believe he would receive. Tim Leiweke, the president and CEO of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the L.A.Galaxy was quoted as saying "From my perspective, it's a shame that the phrase "$250 million contract" became gospel in the media, because it's terribly misleading and just not correct."
But there are elements in his contract that could lead to a huge chunk of change. Beckham will also take in 40-to-50 percent of Galaxy jersey sales and a share of ticket revenues. And that's not all. "There are certain aspects of the deal that are ultimately about the upside value of the league as a whole that David can participate in," says Leiweke. "Our partners all had to sign off, and they did. We had a couple of interesting board calls, but they did." So in the end Beckham will make a majority of his money from endorsement and not his mythical A-Rod-esque contract.
Surely Beckham was less than thrilled when he saw the squad that the Galaxy has at the moment. True, players like Landon Donovan offer a glimmer of hope, but the fact that the Galaxy only has 3 wins in the season so far can't be encouraging. Still, the choice of L.A. as his destination point has far more to do with location and marketability than it does with the prospect of a winning franchise. In a way the L.A. Galaxy are winners already now that Becks is there.
With the money, however, comes the burden of carrying the MLS on Beckham's back. The L.A. Galaxy forked over a lot of money in order to bring him here, but don't cry too hard for them. They stand to make a huge amount of money in this situation. For all of those who think Beckham's arrival won't mean anything to American soccer consider this, there have already been 250,000 David Beckham jerseys sold for his new club.There is no doubt that Beckham will be well marketed. Adidas already has commercials set up that will cross-promote him and Reggie Bush as two great "football" players.
So the question many have asked is this: Can David Beckham make soccer popular in the U.S.? I think the answer depends on what your expectations are. Can he make soccer one of the top 3 sports in America? No chance. The preference of high scoring games is too deeply embedded in the U.S's collective brain. But Beckham can't be blamed for this. Nor do the L.A. Galaxy expect him to singlehandedly make the MLS a high profile league in America. But he is doing just that. The fact that we are even discussing Beckham's arrival is a testament to his talent, both as a footballer and a marketing tool.
And Beckham is the real deal. He loves the game and the challenge that was presented to him by coming to the U.S. He feels he owes it to the game to spread its popularity across the world. In an interview Thursday he said he was aching to help promote the game. "For one of the biggest sporting nations in the world not to have soccer as one of its top three sports is pretty amazing," Beckham said. "So, if I can help grow the game here, then I want to be part of that."
He already has helped generate interest in the U.S. The idea the MLS has is that with the popularity will come more star players. Names like Ronaldo and Zhidane have already been thrown around. When the MLS gains credibility amongst the world as a top league they will then start to reap the benefits of this blockbuster British invasion. It is well worth the investment.It is far too soon to decide how great of an impact Beckham will have on American soccer. How bright can Beckham's star, along with soccer, shine in the U.S? That is up for us, more than him, to decide. Is the arrival of David Beckham a success so far? Well, we are talking about soccer aren't we?