SBD/December 3, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Beckham Exits MLS In Style; Credited With Growth Of League, American Soccer Interest

Beckham leaves MLS after a league litle, just as he did with the EPL and La Liga
The Galaxy defeated the Dynamo on Saturday to claim their second straight MLS Cup in a game that was "televised in 157 countries, and reporters from around the globe were in the press box," according to Arash Markazi of ESPN L.A. The game saw a "a sold-out crowd" of 30,510 at Home Depot Center, including such celebrities as actor Gerard Butler, Lakers Gs Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, and Lakers F Pau Gasol. Such a "global footprint was only a figment in the imagination" of MLS Commissioner Don Garber six years ago. But Galaxy MF David Beckham's arrival "put the Galaxy and MLS on the global stage, giving each the kind of credibility previously only talked about in boardrooms while discussing long-term goals for the league." Beckham said, "When I've been back to Europe and when I go back to England, especially at Christmas, and I'm watching Sky Sports and they're talking about the MLS and they're talking about the Galaxy, Seattle, Red Bull, there's interest there now" (ESPNLA.com, 12/1). In L.A., Helene Elliott wrote Beckham "brought glamour and credibility to MLS, which needed them." Beckham: "I just hope I've brought a bit of interest to the game. If that's the single thing that I've done, then great. But I think the foundations are there now in this league" (L.A. TIMES, 12/2). In N.Y., Ian Lovett wrote Beckham's "footprints are visible all over soccer in the United States, from the foreign TV cameras camped out at the Galaxy's training sessions to the booming salaries of the players around him." Beckham "ushered in a period of sustained growth for the league in almost every way" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/1).

LEAVING HIS MARK: ESPN’s Alexi Lalas said Beckham "did not make MLS, but he has certainly made it better." Lalas: "You’d be a fool to argue against that. He has made the Galaxy and the MLS relevant not just nationally but internationally, and he has shone a spotlight on this league that only David Beckham could.” ESPN’s Kasey Keller said, “David Beckham, one of the biggest global personalities in this sport, comes to MLS and is really able to shine that spotlight on this league. Get it in national publications around the world that MLS never would have got in without him” (“MLS Cup,” ESPN, 12/1). ESPN's Taylor Twellman said, "A lot of players would not have come to MLS had not Beckham spread the word that the league is a lot better than he thought it would be" (CHRON.com, 12/1). Columnist George Vecsey wrote Beckham was "probably worth the $32.5-million guaranteed for five years and the $4 million he endured in his sixth and final season." Beckham "earned it, by coming along at the right time in the careful maturation" of MLS. The league has "gotten better incrementally, in size and attendance and talent, and Beckham was able to use his aging skills" (GEORGEVECSEY.com, 11/29). In London, Duncan White writes, "This was classic Beckham: he has always had the knack of making the perfect exit." Beckham "won the Premier League in his last season with United, La Liga in his last season with Real Madrid and now he was leaving America in style too." It was "unthinkable that it could have ended any other way." Beckham's name was "on the back of every other shirt and supporters had made dozens of home-made signs wishing him good luck or imploring him not to leave." It was all "pretty sentimental stuff and a far cry from three years ago when his perceived lack of commitment meant he was booed by his own fans" (London TELEGRAPH, 12/3). NBC’s Lester Holt said of Beckham, “Does this guy lead the perfect life or what? … After playing his final game professionally here in the United States, he went out a winner” ("Today," NBC, 12/2).

SOCCER NATION USA? The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Matthew Futterman wrote Beckham "helped turn the U.S. into perhaps the world's most unappreciated soccer paradise." That is "essentially the pitch MLS officials will be making in earnest to the sport's biggest stars in the coming years as they try to recruit another crew of Beckhamesque figures to sell soccer in the U.S." MLS Exec VP/Player Relations & Competition Todd Durbin said, "It's North America, so you have the cultural diversity, the access to great schools, restaurants, museums, and a very high quality of life. We feel like we can offer a great place to live day-to-day, good training and now a real level of competition" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 12/1). The AP's Ronald Blum wrote Beckham "came, he sold, he conquered" (AP, 12/2).

OFFSIDES CALL: In Toronto, Cathal Kelly wrote Beckham's "ability to grow the game was not the same thing" as growing business for the MLS. There is "little evidence to suggest that MLS's growth is keeping pace with the infectious spread of international soccer in North America." Beckham "came here to sell a product" and in that sense he "succeeded." But what his employers "did not foresee is that he wasn't working exclusively for them" (TORONTO STAR, 12/1).

GALAXY QUEST: SPORTING NEWS’ Brian Straus writes Beckham “could not have scripted a more satisfying conclusion to his tenure.” Straus: “Fully redeemed by last season’s MLS Cup title, he surpassed even the most optimistic expectations in 2012.” Whether or not the Galaxy have room for a second new designated player "depends on both” MF Landon Donovan and D Omar Gonzalez, each of whom “has one year left on his MLS contract.” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena and AEG’s track record “suggest they’ll make the right decisions.” Their ability to “field a talented but affordable supporting cast alongside DPs who make a consistent impact and set high standards of character and leadership has set the Galaxy apart” (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 12/3).

LEIWEKE WEIGHS IN: AEG President & CEO Tim Leiweke after yesterday's game shared a lengthy embrace and a few warm words with Beckham. While Leiweke would not share details of the conversation, he could not deny that all signs point to Beckham becoming a business partner with the Galaxy. When asked if he could envision Beckham as an owner and if he would welcome him as a partner, Leiweke emphatically said, “Yes and yes.” Leiweke was asked if he thought AEG could finalize a sale in ’13 and he said, “I’ll turn my attention to that on Monday. I’m going to enjoy this for a day. Winning two MLS Cups, the Stanley Cup with the Kings and everything going on with Farmers Field, this has been the best year ever at AEG. But I can also tell you that we’re all exhausted.” Meanwhile, Leiweke said AEG has made “great progress” in bringing the NFL to L.A. Leiweke, smiling broadly, said, “And I have to leave it at that” (Christopher Botta, SportsBusiness Journal).
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