David Beckham’s winding, fitful journey toward establishing an MLS club in Miami is nearing a successful end, league commissioner Don Garber said ahead of Wednesday evening’s All-Star Game in Chicago.
Described by Garber as “passionate, articulate and focused,” Beckham was joined earlier Wednesday by investor Todd Boehly at an MLS owners meeting to present the specifics of their expansion plan. Garber said it was the first time Beckham, who retired as a player in 2013, met formally with the league board.
“They presented their plan and their vision, including their thoughts about a stadium,” Garber said. “Their plan was very well received by our owners.”
Garber revealed that those owners subsequently voted to authorize him, MLS president Mark Abbott and the league’s expansion committee chaired by Jonathan Kraft of the New England Revolution to “finalize the details with respect to [Beckham’s] plan.”
Said Garber, “Everything really is in place for us to do what we need to do over the next couple of weeks, perhaps 30 days, to work with them to move forward. … We’re not announcing MLS Miami today, but I’m confident we’ll be able to do that perhaps by the end of the summer.”
Beckham holds an option to purchase an MLS club at a drastically reduced rate as part of the original contract he signed to join the LA Galaxy in 2007. He announced Miami as his intended site in February 2014 and since then, has struggled to nail down a stadium site and a partner with the wealth required to be the majority owner. Boehly, a minority investor in the Los Angeles Dodgers, came aboard in April and fits that bill. Meanwhile, the group finally has pieced together the land it'll need for a stadium in the Overtown neighborhood just west of downtown Miami.
According to The Miami Herald, Beckham, Boehly and their partners recently purchased a three-acre parcel for $9 million and now hold nine acres in total.
“First and foremost is league approval,” Tim Leiweke, the former LA Galaxy and Toronto FC executive who’s also partnering with Beckham on the project, said to the Herald. “The next step is introducing our ownership group to Miami and getting going with the city on zoning, which I believe we’ll get through.”
Garber said Wednesday that the league is confident Beckham's group and local authorities will be able to negotiate those final, smaller hurdles. The hard work appears done.
That wasn’t always a given.
“I had some concerns they couldn’t get past today,” Garber admitted. “[But] we believe the time is right finally for Miami to be a great Major League Soccer city.”
Miami would be the league’s 24th club (No. 23 Los Angeles FC enters in 2018), and the commissioner said MLS remains on track to identify teams No. 25 and 26 following its December board meeting. Sacramento Republic remains favored to earn one of those bids, and Garber said the USL club's decision to begin preparation work at its stadium site last week “was a great move on their part.”
"The path to MLS has never been more clear," Republic owner Kevin Nagle said in a statement provided to SI.com. "We appreciate Commissioner Garber's comments today in support of Sacramento and are now laser focused on the expansion vote at MLS Cup this December. It's time to bring it home and deliver the MLS team our fans and community deserve."
Garber also cited Detroit, where potential owners Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores moved “one step closer” to securing the downtown property they’re targeting for a stadium. Large U.S. Open Cup and Gold Cup crowds in Cincinnati and Nashville also impressed, Garber said.
All 12 ownership groups vying for one of the four clubs still to be awarded are represented in Chicago at the All-Star Game, Garber confirmed.
“There’s an enormous amount of work over the next few months to get to the final two,” he said of the pair set to be named this year.
There still is no official timeline for the identification of clubs No. 27 and 28.