Miami, United States, Jan 29 – English football superstar David Beckham was officially awarded a Major League Soccer franchise in Miami on Monday, but fans were left in the dark over a range of key details surrounding the venture.
Beckham took center stage in a glitzy spectacle to announce the deal, which included chanting fans and a videotaped welcome from a galaxy of stars including Serena Williams, Neymar, Usain Bolt, actor Will Smith and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z.
Key details — when the team would debut in the league, the team’s name, the team’s logo — were not revealed.
But the omissions did little to dampen the euphoria surrounding the announcement, which came after a tortuous near decade-long journey studded with false dawns and setbacks.
“It’s been a hell of a journey,” Beckham told his audience.
“I’ve got to be honest, it was very difficult. There were times when I sat back and thought, ‘This isn’t going to happen. It’s too difficult, too hard, too many bumps in the road.’ But I don’t give up. Nothing in my career came easy.”
Monday’s award is the most definitive development yet on the saga of when and where Beckham would launch his team.
The former Manchester United, Real Madrid and England star was granted a cut-price $25 million option to buy his own MLS franchise under the terms of the deal which brought him to the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007. Normal franchise licenses cost more than $100 million.
– Logistical roadblocks –
In 2014, Beckham announced his plans to launch a team in Miami, but the project rapidly became mired in logistical problems.
Several failed stadium sites delayed his consortium’s efforts, with Beckham’s team unable to find an agreeable place for a specially built venue.
The pieces began to fall into place last year, however, after Beckham’s consortium secured a land deal for a proposed stadium project. Earlier plans for a waterfront site and others near the Miami Marlins baseball stadium and NBA Miami Heat arena fell through.
The Beckham group, bolstered by the presence of local tycoons Jorge and Jose Mas, has now secured land on which to build a privately developed, 25,000-seat state-of-the-art stadium in the heart of the city.
“They say that great things come to those who wait… we thank you for waiting for this day,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber told the audience, which frequently broke into loud cheers.
Garber said Beckham had helped transform MLS in the decade since he arrived as a player, accelerating the league’s expansion and popularity of the sport.
“The League has grown, and a lot of that can be traced back to David’s arrival in MLS,” Garber said. “Thirteen teams and 14 stadiums have appeared since his arrival in 2007.”
Launch of the new Beckham-backed team will mark the second attempt to start a Miami-based MLS franchise.
– Home-grown talent –
The Miami Fusion, which made their debut in the 1998 MLS season, played for four seasons before being cut from the league after the 2001 campaign amid low ticket sales and the lowest revenues of any team in the competition.
Beckham, 42, retired in 2013 after a 20-year career that saw him win league crowns with Manchester United, Real Madrid, the Galaxy in North America and Paris Saint-Germain in his farewell matches. He also played for England from 1996 to 2009, winning 115 caps.
In 2014, Beckham had hinted at targeting high-profile European stars to help launch the Miami franchise.
However, on Monday, he said he would place equal weight on developing home-grown talent in Florida.
“I have had calls from so many players, top players saying, ‘I am in,'” Beckham said. “Yes we want to bring in top players from all over the world but we are most interested in home-grown players.
“We want to build an academy, to bring players through, young kids from the area. To watch them develop as players. That’s when we will sit back and say ‘Job done.’ That we are proud of this time. We have to invest into the hotbed of talent in this city.”