The man who brought the "Beckham Rule" to Major League Soccer now wants to change it in a dramatic fashion. And if
Leiweke is the president and CEO of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Los Angeles Galaxy. In 2006, Leiweke persuaded fellow MLS owners to pass the Designated Player rule -- a.k.a. the Beckham Rule -- which gave each MLS team one slot to sign a player who would be considered outside the league's miserly salary cap (which is slightly more than $2 million per team).
A few months later, the Galaxy became the first team to exercise the Beckham Rule by signing (who else?) David Beckham.
But the Galaxy (7-10-8) have struggled mightily this season, enduring a 12-game, three-month-long winless stretch that only ended with last Saturday's 5-2 victory over D.C. United. Jettisoned along the way were former Galaxy coach
Amazingly, L.A. is still only two points out of a playoff berth in the anemic Western Conference with five games remaining in the regular season. Yet, Leiweke sees the small number of Designated Players currently in MLS (six in a 14-team league) and thinks the current Designated Player rules don't give teams enough incentive to sign big-name stars.
Namely, he thinks DPs like Beckham should no longer count $400,000 against a team's cap number and instead count nothing at all.
"Within our structure as a league, are we penalized for going out and taking the risk we took on [signing] David? And I think we are," Leiweke told SI.com in an interview in the L.A. offices of AEG. "And so that's something that we as a league are going to have to deal with, is the ditch that [the Galaxy] find ourselves in the day we announce David Beckham based on the cap."
When MLS first announced the Beckham Rule, it decided to make DPs count $400,000 against the cap (and $325,000 for a team's second DP, which could be acquired via trade) as a way to make teams think hard about whether they wanted to go for star power (and be forced to scrimp on other players) or forego a superstar and spread out their limited cash more evenly among their players.
The question is whether the conservative forces in MLS are penalizing teams too much for being bold enough to drop serious cash on name players and raise the league's profile at home and abroad.
So far, the teams that have avoided signing DPs have had more success on the field. Houston and New England (neither of which has a DP) reached the MLS Cup final in '07, and Houston and Columbus (no DPs on either team) are leading their conferences in '08.
But let's be honest: Many opposing fans around the league (and maybe even a few owners) will laugh when they hear that Leiweke wants to change the ground rules now that the Galaxy are tied for the second-worst record in MLS. League owners already helped Leiweke last year when they agreed to let
What's more, the Galaxy have made their share of poor personnel decisions with the cap space that they did have entering the season. L.A. traded veteran defender and team leader
Domínguez, too, has flopped, as have Galaxy castoffs
Leiweke says he's aware of all that: "There are some in the league who argue, 'Yeah, but you're spending the same amount of money on the rest of your team that some of the other teams are spending on their entire team. So you made some bad personnel decisions.' I think we probably did. I'm not an expert, but I think we spent some money and brought some guys in that ultimately aren't very good. So they are right: We've made some bad decisions.
"That said, why does David [Beckham] count against the cap when you see the impact that David has created for everybody else in the league? Why do we get penalized for that? Every team should have the ability, I think, of pulling in a Designated Player and making a decision to pay that player outside the cap, and it shouldn't have an impact on the cap."
What happens now that Leiweke has gone public? Expect him to lobby hard with his fellow MLS owners to change the Designated Player rules at the next Board of Governors meeting, which takes place over MLS Cup weekend in late November.
It remains to be seen, though, whether Leiweke will be successful. No doubt it will help him to have billionaire AEG head
But that doesn't mean the MLS owners (who are in business together as part of the league's single-entity structure) will want to change an important league rule at the behest of the Galaxy, no matter how conservative the existing DP rules might be.
Sometimes Leiweke wins these lobbying efforts, and sometimes he doesn't. In '05, the Board of Governors voted down the Beckham Rule. In '06, the Board passed it. In '07, the Board grandfathered Donovan's salary to help out the Galaxy.
And in '08? We'll see if Leiweke gets his way this time around. The battle might be almost as entertaining to watch as the one the Galaxy now faces to make the postseason.
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