Kevin Garside: David Beckham's move to Miami is one more example of a perfectly timed run into the box by the former England captain
‘If baseball is America’s past and football is its present, soccer may be its future’
You have to stay relevant in your culture. So said Mick Hucknall, explaining how his band Simply Red had filled the ears of disciples so productively for 25 years. In other words don’t try and sell thrash metal to a classical audience, or Radio 4 to the kids.
The career of Hucknall, an east Manchester Red who called time on his band four years ago, pretty much coincided with United’s colonisation of the Premier League and he was a regular attendee at Old Trafford during the first coming of David Beckham in the mid 1990s. His advice came to mind last week as Beckham took to the streets of Miami on the latest leg of his ridiculously successful odyssey across the football landscape.
Since most things in the life of Beckham are heavily scripted, you would not expect him to fluff his pitch to Miami. He was, of course, word perfect and stupendously groomed when giving the neighbourhood the good news that he would be leading the return of soccer to a city the game has so far failed to nourish.
Miami Fusion folded more than a decade ago, unable to connect with a largely Hispanic community that it was assumed might empathise with the project. The premise was flawed because it failed to take account of the fact that those migrating to the city had come to embrace the American dream, not impose ones from the old country. And the majority were from Cuba, which has no great affection for the game.
That has changed significantly in the early part of the 21st century, with solid representation from nationalities as diverse as Polish, Italian, Brazilian, Chilean, British, Colombian, Turkish, Argentinian, Uruguayan, Lebanese, Irish, Romanian and more. A sample of that eclectic mix is gathered in a condo also shared by Reuters sports correspondent Simon Evans, who hails from Burnley and is intimate with the sporting impulses of his adopted town.
Beckham is gambling that relevance is within his grasp, owing in part to the rapidly evolving Miami mix outlined by Evans in his many missives on the subject, and by the spread of fundamental grass roots development in the region. Optimism is sourced in statistics produced by the Public Religion Research Institute, which suggest Beckham might have timed his run into the box perfectly.
The principal change is the adhesion of youth to the sport. The US Youth Soccer Association has more than three million registered players, up from just 100,000 when Pele and George Best were toiling on the American frontier 40 years ago.
According to the research, soccer is second only to American football as the favourite sport of young Americans. The average age of baseball fans, according to PRRI, is 53, for American football 46, and for soccer 37, allowing PRRI research director Daniel Cox to speculate thus: “If baseball is America’s past, and football is its present, then soccer may be its future.”
Cox points out that a north American league that had 10 teams and just three owners when the Fusion folded in 2001 now has 19 with two more pledged. Crowds are on the up, averaging 18,000, which compares comfortably with basketball and ice hockey. The Seattle Sounders are watched by 44,000-plus, a chunk more than Premier League leaders Chelsea.
Beckham’s bespoke presence at Kendall Park on Wednesday had a religious quality about it, his blond quiff appearing to float above the madding crowd, a symbol of vitality and success that promised to end the longing of this soccer-free gulag. Failure doesn’t come dressed in made-to-measure Prada, supported by the city’s mayor and the boss of a telecoms company.
Beckham has his ducks in a row, just as he had when he picked Victoria Beckham out of the Spice Girls line-up, made believers out of Real Madrid, put LA Galaxy on the map and sold what were essentially side shows in Milan and Paris as main events.
Beckham’s entrepreneurial shift is redolent of Richard Branson, who offers not so much personal cash to a project as cachet. Beckham brings brand. He is the magnetic field that attracts the big investors like Miami-based telecoms billionaire Marcelo Claure and political clout in the shape of Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Giménez, who could not get enough of the Beckham association. “The world’s most popular sport is coming to the world’s hottest city,” he cooed.
A downtown site is being sought within walking distance of the American Airlines Arena, home to NBA all-stars Miami Heat, permitting enhanced connectivity between brands Becks and Le Bron, and hopefully the cross-fertilization of fans.
For this baby to reach maturity it requires the love of the people and a TV deal. Beckham can’t force the locals to come if there is no love for the game, but if there is, he can do the rest. The man is made for TV.
As for what colour Miami might adopt? Simply red, of course.
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