Celebrity sightings are routine in Miami, but it became apparent this week that David Beckham is no mere celebrity.
The football/fashion icon’s tour through South Florida on Wednesday left journalists fawning like fanboys at a morning news conference.
It led to such commotion at a local field complex that his afternoon appearance at a youth soccer event had to be abandoned.
"It’s a situation I’ve never seen before in Miami," Miami-Dade County mayor Carlos Gimenez told reporters. "The level of enthusiasm, everyone wanted to be around him, touching him. It got to be a little bit chaotic."
MLS, however, is done genuflecting.
Commissioner Don Garber had some very kind words to say about the former L.A. Galaxy midfielder, stressing that he "had an incredibly powerful impact on our sport and our league," but at this point Beckham has received all the preferential treatment he's going to get.
An MLS spokesperson confirmed to SI.com that Beckham exercised his ownership option by the Dec. 31 deadline. There was no extension, as had been rumored. And Garber's December warning remains in effect -- Beckham will not be considered a league investor and will not have a team unless and until he reaches an agreement with local officials to build a new, soccer-specific stadium.
MLS certainly wants Beckham aboard -- so much so that it is allowing him to buy in at a bargain basement price (reportedly $25 million). But as Garber said two months ago, "We can’t go to Miami without the right stadium solution. David understands that. The city understands that. That’s an indisputable fact. We can’t have different rules in Miami than we have in any other city."
That's why Wednesday's event was as much a pep rally as it was a press conference. The "check" Beckham wrote to MLS represented the first step on a much longer journey, and it won't be cashed, so to speak, until his stadium is a sure thing.
"When David signed with the Galaxy in 2007, as part of his contract he had an option to purchase a Major League Soccer expansion team at a set price once he retired, and he had to exercise that option and select the market within a calendar year after he quit playing for his MLS club," MLS executive VP Dan Courtemanche explained. "So in late December, after many discussions, he came to us and indicated he wanted to exercise that option at the set price and he was going to select Miami."
Courtemanche told SI.com that Beckham, the league and Miami officials then opted to make their announcement on Wednesday for scheduling and logistical reasons.
"We decided to hold off on announcing it publicly until everyone could get together," he said.
And it was announced so publicly -- on the veranda of an art museum overlooking Biscayne Bay and the PortMiami site where Beckham hopes to build -- in order to generate the sort of goodwill necessary for this sort of project.
Nobody works a room like Beckham, and he was in top form Wednesday.
"I hear your concerns. I hear the issues. I hear everything that you have to throw at me, so I'm looking forward to working with you and having a successful relationship," he said. "Thank you to the people of Miami for making myself, my family, my friends, feel so welcome and it means a lot that we have your support."
He promised that he and partners Simon Fuller and Marcelo Claure "don't want public funding. We will fund the stadium ourselves."
Constructing a state-of-the-art stadium won't happen in a vacuum, however. The PortMiami site is county-owned, waterfront land. It would have to be leased to Beckham at a price that may not reflect its true market value. Infrastructure improvements would be required to facilitate access, and Beckham's group likely will seek some sort of tax relief. Fort Lauderdale's Sun-Sentinel reported that public hearings will be necessary.
Many Miamians remain sore about the estimated $1 billion Marlins Park boondoggle. There will be skepticism. It helps that Gimenez, a vocal opponent of the baseball stadium, appears to be on board with Beckham. The mayor was on stage at the Pérez Art Museum Miami on Wednesday. Several county commissioners were in attendance as well. Considering the scene that unfolded, it wouldn't be surprising if they asked Beckham for an autograph.
"We are respectful of the fact that it won’t be easy for us to get the city to approve it, so we’re looking at approximately 30 other locations as well," Claure, a Bolivian telecommunications billionaire, told Soccer By Ives.
But PortMiami is the clear first choice.
"It’s close to [American Airlines Arena]. There’s parking. It’s a site that has a view of the ocean that few teams in the world have," Claure said. "It goes with the (soccer) tradition of being able to walk to the stadium. It’s close to downtown."
Beckham said he wanted to build a "people's club ... that's going to be global." He said big-name players already were calling him to express an interest in signing on, a full three years before his team might take the field. LeBron James could buy in.
Throw in a "world-class, state-of-the-art soccer stadium" (Garber's words) at that site and in front of that skyline, and it sounds almost too good to be true. But there is nothing in Beckham's past that suggests it's a good idea to bet against him. Miami's response on Wednesday was that of a star-struck city that's more than ready to negotiate. The December decision by county commissioners that authorized Gimenez to work on a deal was unanimous. Some suggested alternative sites, but according to The Miami Herald, the biggest hurdle be that Beckham missed the vote.
"I don’t think we should be able to proceed until I personally meet with David Beckham," commissioner Lynda Bell said. Surely she was joking. Mostly.
But there is no more swooning by the MLS board of governors. There are no shortcuts. Beckham will not claim a seat at their table until his status as a partner is cemented, and that won't happen until he finalizes an investor group that satisfies league requirements and reaches a deal with Miami on a stadium. There will be no exceptions made. Not even for the biggest star in the room. Beckham is probably okay with that. He hasn't avoided challenges in the past and said he isn't afraid of hard work. He admitted Wednesday, "This is obviously going to take time."