David Beckham is back in professional soccer – but this time he’ll be in the owner’s box, instead of on the field.
A group led by the soccer superstar announced Monday that Major League Soccer awarded it a franchise in Miami. Before a large crowd at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, team officials said they expect to start play in 2020 in a temporary stadium until their permanent facility in Overtown is built.
“I promise you the team we bring into this league will be one of the best teams, the best team,” Beckham said. “When I was awarded the team, there was only one city for me and it was here. I was drawn to the city for the same reason millions of people are: diversity, culture, weather, the beaches, the people.”
The announcement was made at about noon to wide applause from fans who were in attendance.
Many of Beckham’s partners in the Miami team were in also at the Arsht Center, including Coral Gables businessmen Jorge Mas and Jose Mas of MasTec; SprintCEO Marcelo Claure; and entertainment executive/producer Simon Fuller. The other partner, Japanese billionaire Masayoshi “Masa” Son, CEO of Softbank and the chairman of Spirit, made a brief video message in support.
“Miami will have a soccer team they are proud of,” Claure said. “We are going to build one of the most successful franchises in the sport’s history.”
But he said bringing a soccer team to Miami was a “roller coaster” with many setbacks.
“There was love at first sight with Miami,” Claure said. “Since then, it has been a rocky road. Some of the world’s greatest projects are filled with obstacles. We are here because of David’s drive to make sure nothing got in between him and his vision.”
About 60 days ago, it looked like the dream was over, Claure said. He met with Beckham in Miami for a “goodbye” meeting after MLS didn’t approve an earlier version of their ownership group.
“We both sat there like depressed young kids, discussing what will happen next,” Beckham said.
“Then we looked at each other and we said, ‘We can’t give up,’” Claure said.
Claure said he next received an email from the Mas brothers, asking to come on board as investors, eliminating the missing link for the ownership group: locals who were deeply invested in Miami. The right group was finally in place.
For Beckham, the establishment of his MLS franchise is the culmination of plans set into motion more than a decade ago. When he signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007, Beckham’s contract included the right to purchase an MLS franchise in the future for $25 million.
Beckham retired from play in 2013 and, later that year, the Miami-Dade County Commission voted to allow Mayor Carlos Gimenez to negotiate with Beckham’s group on the location of a soccer stadium.
Working initially with Fuller and Claure, Beckham went back and forth on several possible stadium sites for years. A corner of Dodge Island at PortMiami was floated, but several businesses at the port objected. The group targeted a site next to Marlins Park, but it couldn’t come to terms with several private land owners.
The match started to turn in Beckham’s favor in 2016, when his group identified property in Overtown, just northwest of downtown Miami. Beckham’s group paid $18.95 million in two deals with private parties for 6 acres. That wasn’t enough land for the stadium, though. In June 2017, the county commission approved a deal to sell a 2.8-acre site at 678 N.W. Seventh St. to Beckham’s group for $9.015 million. It also agreed to create at least 50 permanent jobs for 15 years, and work with local workers and contractors.
The purchase from the county has yet to close, as a lawsuit from wealthy landowner Bruce Matheson has challenged the deal. A judge ruled against Matheson’s complaint, but the case is on appeal.
Of course, Beckham’s group would also need zoning and site plan approval from the city of Miami. Its plan to build a 25,000-seat stadium with no parking has raised questions about whether that would work well in a car-happy city.
It’s expected that the stadium would cost about $500 million. The group has vowed to build it with fully private funds.
If successful, the stadium could bring pedestrians and business activity to a neighborhood that’s been economically struggling for years. It could also put Miami on the map for the world’s most popular sport. In recent years, international soccer matches here have drawn strong attendance.
“The one thing that kept me going in the four years was you guys,” Beckham said, referring to the fans. “Our fan support has literally been relentless.”
MLS Commissioner Don Garber said the team will start play in 2020, but not in its own stadium. They will need a temporary site, which the league has not yet considered. He noted that several expansion franchises, such as Orlando City and Atlanta United, launched in temporary venues with strong attendance, so he felt that a temporary site in Miami would build momentum toward the team opening its stadium.
Garber said Miami, which would be the 24th MLS franchise, is part of the league’s rapid expansion. Since Beckham joined in 2007, MLS has added 13 teams and 14 stadiums. Many of the new teams, including Atlanta, have exceeded attendance expectations.
Claure said there is an ambitious plan for the temporary game sites, but he wants to make sure it can be carried out before making an announcement. There are many venues to choose from, including universities and football stadiums.
As for a team name and logo, Beckham said he wants the fans to help him decide.
“We want the fans involved in picking the names and the colors,” Beckham said. “We are a family club. We are a club of the people.”