The league announced Wednesday that the former LA Galaxy superstar has exercised his option for an MLS expansion team and selected Miami as the city for the new club, in a move rumoured for several months.
“We appreciate all that David has done as a player, an ambassador and as a global icon to help grow Major League Soccer,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. “We are thrilled that he will be an owner, and we look forward to him helping us achieve our goal of being one of the top soccer leagues in the world.”
“Miami is a vibrant, diverse community that thrives on the same type of energy that fuels the international appeal of soccer, and I look forward to a dedicated, long-term partnership with this dynamic city and Major League Soccer,” Beckham said. “My experience with the Galaxy is what convinced me that I wanted to one day own an MLS team and it is thrilling to now see that dream coming true.”
Devoid of MLS since 2002, when the Miami Fusion, along with the Tampa Bay Mutiny, were controversially contracted due to financial difficulties, the city has been seen as the ideal location for a potential team ever since it was first reported that Beckham’s original five-year contract with the league contained the option of buying an expansion franchise, in any market expect New York City, at the discounted rate of $25 million.
Widely considered one of the prime untapped soccer markets in the country, efforts have been made over the past few years to return MLS to Miami, including an ambitious but ultimately ill-fated attempt by FC Barcelona, as well as a campaign began by fans of the South Florida Strikers, who currently ply their trade in NASL.
Neither bid may have got off the ground but Miami’s potential to be a major player amongst a growing MLS fraternity was never lost on league officials, with Garber keen to stress at any opportunity that the plan was always to return to South Florida.
Despite the City being saddled with a ‘fair-weather fan’ reputation, Miami’s large Hispanic population (a 64.7% share of the metro area – by far the largest in the country) has always made it an appealing location for MLS but many argued that, after the failure of the Fusion, a franchise would only be able to succeed if it bought the big names with it – a box which Beckham clearly ticks.
Beckham’s ownership group includes long-time business partner Simon Fuller and Bolivian billionaire Marcelo Claure, who tried unsuccessfully to engineer the Barcelona bid. The remainder of the group will be finalized over the next several months, but Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has been rumoured to be included, as well as the Miami Heat’s LeBron James and a host of investors from as far afield as Qatar, Japan and Singapore.
Beckham and group plan to build a privately funded stadium for the new team and met last week with Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez to discuss around 30 potential sites.
The favoured site is reportedly Biscayne Bay’s PortMiami but Beckham has also visited a number of other sites over the past year, including SunLife Stadium, Marlins Park and FIU stadium on the Florida International University campus.
A league statement released on Wednesday stated that an agreement for a new stadium must be finalized in order for MLS to come to Miami.
With both New York City FC and Orlando City SC set to begin play in 2015, after being announced as the league’s 20th and 21st franchises, respectively, this part year, the league announced plans last July to grow to 24 teams by 2020.
Beckham’s club would become one of those three teams, pending finalisation of a new stadium, with Atlanta and San Antonio currently the other hot favourites to be awarded expansion franchises by the end of the decade.