SBJ/January 15 - 21, 2007/This Weeks News

‘White Pelé’ adds sizzle to U.S. soccer

When David Beckham joins the Los Angeles Galaxy in July, it will deliver U.S. soccer its most prolific star since Pelé played in the North American Soccer League 30 years ago. It’s a move that had the soccer world buzzing last week.

Beckham’s deal has Galaxy
and MLS fans flying.

“He is a white Pelé in the sense that he’s bringing the world’s attention to soccer in a way I’m not sure we’re ready for,” said ESPN soccer commentator Eric Wynalda.

The deal punctuated a historic week for the league that included the $33 million sale of D.C. United from AEG to a group that included Victor MacFarlane and Will Chang, and the $4 million transfer of New England Revolution star Clint Dempsey — the largest transfer fee for an MLS player to date.

Those announcements came on the heels of the league snaring its first TV rights fees in deals signed late last year, putting MLS at arguably its highest point ever heading into its 12th season.

“The news has been universally positive for MLS during the last year,” said Dave Checketts, owner of Real Salt Lake. “This is a league where the future is clearly bright.”

The 31-year-old Beckham signed a contract that was reported as a five-year deal worth $250 million. Tim Leiweke, CEO and president of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which operates the team, declined to discuss Beckham’s contract last week but said, “We structured it so that it has a lot of opportunities for David and us.”

“He’s going to be the greatest goodwill ambassador this sport is ever going to have,” Leiweke said, “certainly since Pelé.”

Soccer and marketing experts agreed that Beckham’s signing would enhance the league’s stature and value. Many expect ticket sales to grow, sponsorship interest to flourish and franchise values to increase.

“It will push MLS from inside the sports pages to the front of the sports page,” said Randy Bernstein, who heads Premier Partnerships, Los Angeles, which sells sponsorships for a number of MLS teams. “It also creates an opportunity on TV so that instead of reporting a score of the game, you can have two days of advance stories from the game.”

Beckham is one of the most recognizable athletes in the world. His powerful and accurate right foot made him a legend with Real Madrid, Manchester United and the English national team. His marriage to Victoria “Posh Spice” Adams of the Spice Girls in 1999 catapulted him from the sports page to the tabloids, where the couple has remained a fixture.

Beckham may be a worldwide celebrity, but only one-third of Americans recognize his face, according to the Davie-Brown Index, which tests the public’s awareness level of athletes and entertainers. More than 95 percent recognize Tiger Woods (see chart).

But marketers and TV executives believe there’s enough name recognition that he will fuel curiosity in the league, helping to drive TV viewership and attendance.

Get To Know Me
Beckham may be a worldwide celebrity, but only one-third of Americans recognize his face, according to the Davie-Brown Index, which tests the public’s awareness level of athletes and entertainers. A comparison of how the most-recognized superstars from other sports fare:

Note: Only Mia Hamm registered a higher percentage among soccer players in America, getting 39.9 percent. Freddy Adu and Landon Donovan were the only MLS stars to register numbers, getting 11.0 and 4.1 percent, respectively.
Source: Davie-Brown Index

“He’s an icon no matter what continent you’re on,” said Scott Guglielmino, vice president of programming at ESPN. “(His arrival is) going to draw in some soccer fans who don’t usually tune in the league, and his stature beyond that as an icon is going to draw some people in that don’t normally watch soccer at all.”

Leiweke said season-ticket sales already began to increase as rumors of Beckham signing spread. Other teams expect to feel some residual impact of that, too.

“Obviously the Galaxy’s attendance should surge,” said Clark Hunt, whose Hunt Sports Group operates the Columbus Crew and FC Dallas. “Any time he plays in any other MLS venues, those teams will enjoy a big lift in attendance.”

Perhaps the greatest impact is Beckham’s global stature. The Galaxy have already begun planning a potential tour to Asia in 2008, and sports marketers say this definitely will improve the league’s stature abroad.

s global stature. The Galaxy have already begun planning a potential tour to Asia in 2008, and sports marketers say this definitely will improve the league’s stature abroad.

But Sal Galatioto, president of Galatioto Sports Partners, wasn’t convinced the signing will provide the long-term impact necessary to truly increase team values.

“I don’t think any single player, even a star the magnitude of Beckham, is enough to move the needle over the long run,” Galatioto said. “What impact will it have on attendance? What impact will it have on TV coverage? We can conjecture, but it’s only one player on one team.”

Others have wondered whether the arrival of Beckham ultimately could be a negative for the league, similar to when the NASL added a series of international stars, led by Pelé from 1975-77, before soaring salaries eventually caused the league to collapse in 1984.

But Phil Woosnam, former NASL executive director and commissioner, said the structure of MLS’s designated player rule, instituted late last year that prevents teams from signing more than two players outside the salary cap of $2.4 million per team, should protect MLS from his league’s mistakes.

“It’s a very smart move on their part,” Woosnam said. “As long as they can handle the salary cap, they can succeed with this policy where we failed.”

Beckham’s not old, but questions remain about whether he can still play at the high level that earned him the fifth-most international appearances of any English player. He had immense success while with Manchester United, and remained a star the last few years with Real Madrid, but he was dropped from England’s national team following last year’s World Cup.

Many soccer experts and marketers, though, argue that he’s still a top-caliber talent with three or four solid years left. They point to interest expressed in him by English clubs Tottenham and Fulham and Italy’s Internazionale as proof.

“In some respects, the MLS has won a trophy,” said Ken Crawford, a senior client director for Davie-Brown Talent. “They’ve got a guy who’s going to change the way the league is looked at and how it’s played. His performance is still at a very high level.”

What People Are Saying:

“I’m thrilled he made this decision, but this is kind of like the circus. It’s billed as the greatest show on earth and sometimes it’s a disappointment. He’s extremely talented. Is he going to outrun anybody? I don’t think so.”
— Eric Wynalda,
ESPN soccer commentator

“The greatest impact has nothing to do with the United States. It’s the ability for Beckham to expand MLS outside U.S. borders, especially in Asia and Europe.”
— Randy Bernstein, Premier Partnerships

“It gives the league a face which it’s never really had. You go to the U.K. and every guy in a pub thinks they can play in MLS.”
— Sal Galatioto, Galatioto Sports Partners president

“David’s going to accelerate (the league’s) growth and exposure. The shirts are going to be flying off the shelves.”
— Ken Crawford, Davie-Brown Talent senior talent director

“It instantly gives MLS a huge boost in awareness particularly among the casual soccer fan who may not be that attuned to what’s going on in the sport domestically.”
— David Sternberg, Fox Soccer Channel executive vice president

“No one’s happier than ESPN waking up this morning.”
— Dave Checketts, President of SCP Worldwide, owner of Real Salt Lake

The Business of Beckham

Partners With Becks

David Beckham’s marketing deals should align well with MLS and the Galaxy. Pepsi has been with MLS since the league’s inaugural season, and Adidas is a corporate partner of both the team and the league. Gillette has a global soccer presence as a FIFA sponsor and sponsors the New England Revolution.

Adidas 2001 $160 million lifetime deal
Gillette 2004 3-year, $30 million deal
Motorola 2006 3-year, $15 million deal
Pepsi Late 1990s; renewed in 2002 $3.6 million per year

SportsBusiness Journal

L.A. Galaxy At The Gate
The Galaxy is annually one of the league’s top-drawing teams.

Galaxy avg. attend.
MLS avg. attend.
2006 20,814 15,390
2005 24,204 15,118
2004 23,809 15,550
2003 21,983* 14,898
2002 19,047 15,821
2001 17,387 14,961
2000 20,400 13,756
1999 17,632 14,282
1998 21,784 14,312
1997 20,626 14,603
1996 28,916 17,406
* Moved from the Rose Bowl into the 27,000-seat Home Depot Center.
Source: SportsBusiness Journal

Will David Beckham’s signing cause you to pay closer attention to MLS?

No. of votes
% of votes
I will pay closer attention 182 63%
I will pay less attention 6 2%
It will not affect me at all 100 35%

A nonscientific poll offering a snapshot of readers’ thoughts. The question was posted Jan. 11 on and drew 288 responses.





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