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Becks on call
by Ridge Mahoney, August 7th, 2007 7AM

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MLS and the Galaxy, exalted by media outlets throughout the land - for the most part - seven months ago for landing David Beckham are being lashed almost daily by many of those same outlets as his tender left ankle slowly heals.

"Damaged goods," "bait and switch," "Bench It Like Beckham", each day brings a fresh barb of stinging criticism, as if MLS conspired with the Estonian national team to arrange a stomping on his ankle in that June 6 qualifier and then stood by idly as Real Madrid's medical team shot his ankle full of pain-killers so he could play in the decisive, final match of the Spanish league season and further damage the ankle.

His slow recovery has fueled suspicions the damage may be long-term, even permanent. There's zero evidence to support this case, of course, but that's irrelevant, as is the plain fact that until he completed his contract with Real, Galaxy officials had absolutely no right nor course of action to evaluate or treat his ankle.

The criticism took some curious forms, such as that leveled at team officials for letting him travel with the team on its current three-game road trip after keeping him home for a SuperLiga game in Dallas on the grounds that air travel could cause swelling in his ankle. The possibility that the team believed he'd be healthy for the last two games of the trip against D.C. United and New England apparently didn't figure in this theory after he was ruled out of the Toronto game. And if he recovered in LA sufficiently to fly later in the week, got on a plane and his ankle swelled up to force him out of the lineup again, how stupid would that look?

And as to the dark suspicions about a sprained ankle taking so long to heal, a much younger MLS attacker by the name of Chris Rolfe only recently came off injured reserve after suffering an ankle sprain in mid-May. Do the math. And he didn't get flipped up in the air by Chelsea's Steve Sidwell, either.

At the time, Galaxy president and GM Alexi Lalas admitted letting Beckham play against Chelsea entailed some risk. Responsibility admitted, risk taken, cost still to be determined. Can we move on?

Maybe the marketing forces played a role, but hey, this just in: Marketing millions persuaded the Galaxy to sign him in the first place! "Brand It Like Beckham," remember? Still, the league is in a bad spot, and so is the Galaxy and ESPN, which had heavily loaded its non-soccer programming with Beckham promos.

Fans who bought tickets have no grounds for refunds or rebates; this is not the same situation as for a concert by Luciano Pavarotti or even the Spice Girls. If he, or they, don't show, customers are entitled to a refund or some other make-good. So would a boxing fan if illness or arrest caused cancellation of the main event on a card. Not so for a competitive team sporting event.

A baseball fan who buys a San Francisco Giants ticket in the hopes of seeing Barry Bonds hit a historic homer has no case if he sits. Ditto for Becks. Those fans in other MLS cities that bought season tickets months in advance to guarantee themselves seats to see Becks probably have no legal recourse, but they'll complain, and team officials had best listen.

Sports teams are permitted to scale ticket prices differently for different games, yet the premium prices charged by MLS teams for the Galaxy visit and bundled packages by which fans had to buy tickets to other games in order to get the Galaxy game could be deemed onerous.

Each day is an adventure, and we're not even a month into a five-year saga.

 



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