MLS Galaxy MF David Beckham on Monday announced he would be leaving the league after the Dec. 1 MLS Cup, but he "may very well come back as an owner," according to Kevin Baxter of the L.A. TIMES. Given the "partnership he has forged with" AEG President & CEO Tim Leiweke, expect that to "happen here in Southern California, where Beckham's successful mission to transform U.S. soccer began more than five years ago." Beckham is considering playing in China, which would "allow Brand Beckham to expand its international reach deep into the world's most populous country, while the oil-rich owners of clubs throughout the Middle East will throw wads of money Beckham's way in the hope he can do for their teams and league what he did for the Galaxy and MLS." Meanwhile, discussions have "already begun with teams in Australia." His contract with the Galaxy and the league "contained a clause allowing him to become an MLS owner at a below-market rate, an option he has long promised to exercise." But rather than "signing on with an expansion franchise, expect Beckham to become an equity partner with the Galaxy, a deal that would allow the team to continue profiting from its relationship with Beckham while allowing Beckham to learn the management business from one of the most successful ownership groups in U.S. sports." Leiweke said of Beckham's ownership aspirations, "With David this is the right decision. It's the right time" (L.A. TIMES, 11/21).
ASSESSING THE INFLUENCE: USA TODAY's Roxanna Scott notes Beckham on Tuesday "pointed to new franchises (seven since 2007), attendance growth (about 6 million this season, nearly double the 2005 total), the league's TV deal with NBC and fan interest as signs that things have changed" for MLS since his arrival (USA TODAY, 11/21). The GUARDIAN's Graham Parker wrote soccer in America has "transformed during Beckham's time here -- supporter culture, infrastructure, standard of television coverage, reporting and the economics of squad building are all very different from 2007" (GUARDIAN.co.uk, 11/20). The GUARDIAN's Josh Guesman writes Beckham will "always be considered a success for L.A." Beckham converted his fans "into LA Galaxy fans." He took people who were "just showing up to a game to gawk at 'David Beckham' and made them watch the game ... and they liked it." Guesman: "Would anyone be surprised if Beckham ended up in New York playing for the Red Bulls?" The bottom line is that Beckham "had a huge impact" on the Galaxy and MLS (GUARDIAN, 11/21). In L.A., Phil Collin writes, "Despite a rather rocky start with the Galaxy ... the Beckham era is drawing nothing but raves at this point." Galaxy MF Landon Donovan said, "We went up to Seattle on Sunday and played in front of 45,000 people. That didn't happen before he got here." Collin writes Beckham "quickly became a favorite of teammates for his down-to-earth approach" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 11/21).
ALL ABOUT BECKS: SPORTS ON EARTH's Jorge Arangure Jr. writes the problem with Beckham’s six-year MLS era is that it was "a period in which the soccer star’s individual brand grew exponentially while the league remained stalled in relative obscurity." For Beckham, the move to MLS "was always about Beckham." He did "little to actively promote the league and the sport." Beckham was "supposed to help MLS become part of the national conversation." Instead, MLS is "as regional a league as it’s ever been" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 11/21). SOCCER AMERICA's Ridge Mahoney wrote a "minority share in a pending expansion team would neatly suit the needs of MLS, New York and Brand Beckham." There are "hurdles to clear, but Becks in the Big Apple makes a lot of sense" (SOCCERAMERICA.com, 11/20).
Mark Miles was introduced Tuesday as Hulman & Co. CEO, and people who know him said that he has a "skill that will be vital in reviving a struggling sport: getting contentious players to work together," according to Cavin & Murray of the INDIANAPOLIS STAR. IndyCar team "owners, equipment manufacturers, event promoters and drivers -- who regularly fight on issues such as money and rules -- will have to be sold on Miles’ vision." Miles' team will include IMS President & CEO Jeff Belskus, who will "remain president of the parent company but focus on racing activities." The hiring of Miles "comes at a time IndyCar is overwhelmed with issues." It has a "declining audience, a struggling TV package, an unbalanced budget and not enough sponsorship." Miles "didn’t offer many details about his vision Tuesday, but much of it will be based on information from BCG, a Boston-based consulting group hired to study every aspect of IndyCar and IMS" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 11/21). ESPN.com's John Oreovicz wrote hiring Miles "looks like a smart move on a number of levels." He is a "legend in Indianapolis sports and business circles." Miles has "credibility locally, nationally and internationally." His new role "puts him in position to have huge influence on the sport." Meanwhile, this is Belskus' "second stint as interim CEO for IndyCar, and there are signs that he'd like to shed the temporary tag." Since the series split with Bernard a few weeks ago, Belskus has "thrown himself into the task of repairing the broken lines of communication and bruised egos that developed in the second half of Bernard's tenure." Belskus' "familiarity to the Hulman-George family and the Indy car community, combined with Miles' experience and skills, could end up being a winning combination." Miles "may not be the man running Indy car racing, but it sounds like he's a pretty good guy to have supervising and assisting the man who is" (ESPN.com, 11/20).
The AHL has seen a 12% increase in attendance "during the first five weeks of its season -- a good number, but not strong enough to declare the NHL lockout has been a boon" for the league, according to Christopher Botta of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. AHL Commissioner David Andrews said, "The numbers are close to where we thought they would be. We're seeing a good jump where our franchises are close to NHL cities. We're up slightly almost across the board just about everywhere else." Botta reports average attendance among the league's 30 teams compared to last season "is up, to 5,291 from 4,720, but some of the numbers from this season are a bit skewed." The Bridgeport Sound Tigers, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, "gave away free tickets to a pair of games on Nov. 3-4 as a civic gesture." The "near-capacity crowds" lifted the Sound Tigers' average "to 7,650, third-best in the league and up from 5,461 at the same point a year ago." Some gates "suggest that hockey has been missed in a few NHL markets" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 11/19 issue). The AP's John Kekis wrote the "atmosphere in the AHL has never been better." Syracuse Crunch Owner Howard Dolgon, whose franchise prior to the season switched NHL affiliations from the Ducks to the Lightning, said, "We're way ahead in everything -- tickets, sponsorship. I don't think that's all related to the lockout. I think, for us, a part of that is the excitement over the change in affiliations and the quality of the teams." He added, "I certainly think that there's more of an emphasis on the American Hockey League now across the board." Crunch coach Jon Cooper "marveled at the attention." Cooper: "When we went to Canada, TSN, the equivalent of ESPN, has got AHL highlights going all the time. That's something that probably wouldn't happen had the NHL been going on" (AP, 11/16).
NFL ticket buyers "increasingly say the stadium experience is not what it used to be," according to ESPN’s Bob Ley. And fans staying at home to watch games on HDTV with the "ability to see every single scoring play ... presents a challenge to the NFL." While NFL TV ratings are up 12% "compared to five years ago, NFL ticket sales have been declining by four percent annually over that same time and last year's average attendance was the lowest in 13 years." Ley: "New stadiums are being built and those spending major dollars certainly get the top-end amenities, but the mass of fans confront this growing reality: Actually going to the game can be less attractive than watching it at home." NFL Exec VP/Business Ventures Eric Grubman said, "There's no crisis. We're selling in the high 90 -- 95, 97, 98 -- percent of the tickets and frankly people are clamoring for tickets in a lot of markets.”
IMPROVING THE PRODUCT: Grubman noted, "The at-home experience from the fan's perspective has gotten much better and it's gotten cheaper." ESPN’s Darren Rovell said that Grubman stated the "fans in the stands are the lifeblood of the league but he makes no apologies for the juggernaut that its TV business has become." Rovell said the league "knows it has to improve in-stadium internet connectivity" and is "monitoring at least six stadiums … that were recently wired for Wi-Fi." Rovell said the NFL "should have about 12 teams hooked up to Wi-Fi by the end of the season." Rovell added, "Grubman acknowledges that building an in-stadium Wi-Fi network from scratch costs at least $8 million but it's an investment in a new breed of fans. … Grubman doesn't want to just match the home experience at the stadium. He wants to make it even better."
KEEPING PACE: 49ers CEO Jed York, whose franchise is building a new stadium, said, "You need to have a software-driven stadium." York: "It's about making sure that the RedZone Channel is there, that fantasy stats are there but it's not an application. It's not something that’s just a one-size-fits-all. You have to make sure that you have an entire technology stack that allows your fans to have their own unique experience" ("OTL," ESPN, 11/18).