In what turned out to be the loudest, longest and flashiest rubber-stamp in MLS history, David Beckham and the city of Miami were welcomed officially—and finally—to the league at a Monday presentation that felt like a pep rally staged at a nightclub.
No team name, logo, kickoff date or final stadium plan was announced formally, either at the event or in the league's press release. But there will be a team, and after years of hiccups and hurdles, league, local and club officials obviously felt that fact was worth celebrating. The details will fall into place. A privately-financed, $200 million, 25,000-seat stadium is expected to be constructed in the Overtown neighborhood just west of downtown. The arena should be ready in 2021, according to The Miami Herald. MLS commissioner Don Garber told reporters later Monday that Beckham’s club will take the field at a temporary venue in 2020.
That’ll be six years after the former Manchester United, Real Madrid and LA Galaxy star announced his intention to own an MLS club in Miami. And it’ll be 13 since Beckham signed a record-breaking MLS contract giving him the option to buy a franchise at a reduced rate. At around the same time, Bolivian telecommunications executive Marcelo Claure was speaking with FC Barcelona about partnering in a Miami venture. That fell through in 2008. But then Claure met Beckham’s business partner, Simon Fuller, in 2011 (at Jennifer Lopez's house, apparently), and the seeds for an ownership group were planted.
Germination took years, however, and according to Claure, the entire project was on the verge of collapsing as recently as two months ago. Then Jorge and Jose Mas, locals who own a $4 billion engineering and infrastructure company, stepped up, while a ruling in a lawsuit concerning the purchase of a piece of Overtown property fell in Beckham’s favor. After years of waiting and delays, Miami MLS came together quickly.
“This is something that’s been a dream for many, many years …. Bringing an MLS club to Miami has been a hell of a journey,” Beckham told the raucous crowd at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on Monday.
“When I was awarded the team there was only one city for me—only one city. And it was here,” he continued. “I was drawn to this city the same reason millions of people are: diversity, culture, the weather, the beaches, the people. I will be honest. I won’t be as honest as Marcelo was … it was very difficult at times. There were times, like Marcelo said, we sat back and said, ‘This is not going to happen. This dream is not going to happen. It’s too difficult, too hard, too many bumps in the road.’ But I don’t give up. ... Things get difficult at times and the only way for me to get through difficult times is to roll your sleeves up, never give in and literally never give up, and that’s what I did with this.”
There were four proposed stadium sites, a litany of potential investors and one, Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly, who signed on then dropped out. A successful expansion bid in Nashville and two existing clubs that are on the verge, Sacramento Republic and FC Cincinnati, all launched after Beckham’s first Miami news conference in February 2014 (Sacramento had been announced but had yet to take the field).
“It’s been a rocky road … [but] some of the world’s greatest projects are filled with obstacles,” Claure said. “The reason why we’re all here is because of David Beckham’s unparalleled drive to not let anything come in the middle of his team and the city of Miami. We’re here because of David.”
The Mas brothers’ millions and local connections, as well as the work behind the scenes of former AEG and MLSE chief Tim Leiweke and the investment by Japanese telecommunications executive Masayoshi Son, have made a massive difference as well. As a result, where there was once no ownership group there now appears to be a formidable one.
“I have no doubt that this is a dream team, and it’s the dream team we’ve been waiting so long for,” Garber said.
Beckham said there were numerous “top players from Europe” interested in playing in Miami, but he said he was more interested in “homegrown talent.”
He said, “We will build a state-of-the-art academy, an academy like the one I’ve grown up with in Europe.”
When locals rise through the ranks and become pros, “that’s when a community is built and that’s when people become proud to be supporters of a team,” Beckham added.
According to The Herald, the club name and logo “will be rolled out in the next few months,” and the paper suggested that black and white will be part of the color scheme. Beckham’s nascent ownership group was operating under the name “Miami Beckham United,” and as much as naming his new team after the club that made him famous might appeal, MLS’s appetite for a fourth United likely is nonexistent. It’s believed Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank asked for a prohibition on the name after fellow 2017 expansion side Minnesota United was permitted to keep the moniker it had been using since 2013.
Miami officially becomes MLS’s 25th team following the December announcement of Nashville’s entry. It’s unclear which will kick a ball first, however, and it’s possible one or both may follow an expansion team yet to be announced. Either Sacramento or Cincinnati, which along with Detroit are vying for a bid expected to be awarded in the next few weeks, theoretically could begin play in 2019 as MLS seeks a balanced alignment. Los Angeles FC will become the 23rd club to take the field in March.
Miami had MLS representation from 1998 through 2001. The Fusion did well on the field, winning the Supporters' Shield in ’01 and advancing to the U.S. Open Cup final the year before, but had difficulty drawing fans and sponsors to outdated (even then) Lockhart Stadium. They were contracted along with the Tampa Bay Mutiny following the ’01 season.
Beckham and Co. promised a much different feel and fate on Monday.
“The team that we bring into this league will be one of the best teams—will be the best team,” Beckham said.
And Claure claimed, “We’re going to build one of the most successful franchises in sports history.”