Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The (250) Million Dollar Man

It has been a few days since the announcement that the World's Most Famous Athlete is coming to the one part of the world where he sits in relative obscurity. For those of you who have been living under a rock, on the moon, or perhaps even farther into Northern Ontario than I am, David Beckham has signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy of the MLS.

First off, how many of you even knew that there was an MLS before this? As a sports fan, I was aware of it, but it certainly was not high up on my list of sporting priorities, even with an expansion team in Toronto coming this season.

If the Galaxy and the MLS were trying to increase the profile of their league then mission accomplished. If for no other reason than the steep $250 million dollars Beckham is set to receive over the next 5 years, making Beckham the highest paid athlete in North American History. Ohh that of course, fails to include the ridiculous amount of money he is set to make from endorsements, which incidentally his new contract allows him to retain 100% of his endorsement money, a huge step up from the 50% that Real Madrid was allowing him.

It appears to be more than just the mind-numbing amount of money someone can get for playing a game, as tickets for MLS games have been selling much faster in the past few days since the announcements. So-called "Beckham Tickets" are already getting hard to come by at MLS games, and season ticket sales are way up.

One of the big reasons Beckham gives for accepting the move, is that he wants to help soccer expand into the United States. Of course, if you wanted to expand the sport, you could pick no better representative than Beckham. He is the only soccer player that the typical American could name. And if you wanted a market, there is none better than LA, it has a large immigrant population (Remember, soccer is huge in every other country in the world), a celebrity obsessed culture, and more importantly, no NFL team.

How would that matter you ask? Well having multiple professional sports teams in one city puts them in direct competition with one another. If you think about it, most sports fans are sports fans and while many would have their favourites, there is still a strong overlap in the fan bases. And since there obviously is only so much money to go around and people often have to choose which local sports games they attend. Why else do Vancouver and Montreal only have NHL teams now? So Beckham coming to a city that does not have a team in North America's largest sporting league makes a huge amount of sense since they don't have to deal with those pesky (American) Football Fans.

Now the big question remains. Will this work? I honestly think no. This has been done before and failed miserably. There was the North American Soccer League that existed from 1968-84 and even signed then major players Franz Beckenbauer, Bobby Moore and of course, Pele, but yet it could not find a way to last. One of the major reasons for its collapse? Short-sighted investments and an over reliance on foreign players. Sounds familiar already now doesn't it?

Don't believe me on the foreign players deal? Well what are the biggest leagues in the United States? Times up, the answer is easily the NFL and the NBA. Guess where most of their players come from? Sure there are obviously exceptions, especially in the more recent years of the NBA, but by and large they are sports played by Americans, for Americans, so help me God. Soccer meanwhile, is a sport played by the world for the world. The US has always done its best to separate itself from the rest of the world and sports are no different. Unless the US goes out and wins a World Cup than soccer will always be seen as a game for everyone else and not for the United States.

On a broader, more tangential note, do the owners of the Los Angeles Galaxy really understand the global world that we live in? The whole point of globalization is the spread of American culture. Don't believe me? Then why is there a McDonald's in Red Square but no Tim Horton's within sight of the Lincoln Memorial? Another pop quiz, what is the fastest growing sport in the world? If you think soccer you are wrong, it is basketball, more and more children are starting to bounce balls instead of kick them around. The future of sports unfortunately lies in the expansion of US sports, especially basketball, to the rest of the world.

Wow, I really am jaded. I had better stop before I hurt myself. Moral of the story, this whole David Beckham move, while bold, will not work out for the MLS. Just like when the New York Cosmos signed Pele, it did not pay off. Americans do not care about soccer and they won't really. The only hope that the MLS has is if the US actually decides to stop fearing the Mexicans and lets them in, maybe then will they have a sustainable audience.

Soccer fans and anti-xenophobes, don't hold your breath.

Until next time,


1 comment:

McNutt said...

How fascinating that you wrote this entire post without bringing up the name "Wayne Gretzky." I think that's a big oversight on your part, especially considering that he's probably the best point-of-comparison for what the Galaxy are trying to accomplish here.

I don't disagree with a lot of what you're saying, but I think that perpetually referencing back to the North American Soccer League is incredibly faulty. Why? Because while basketball may be the fastest growing sport worldwide (because everyone already plays soccer/football), soccer is the fatest growing sport in North America; not spectator-wise, necessarily, but in terms of what kids are playing as they grow up. It's THAT enthusiasm that the Galaxy and the league are trying to tap into.

Will it work? I don't know, but I wouldn't dismiss the chances for success of this venture so easily (although I agree that it will take a lot more than just one player).