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Beckham's Star Power
by Ridge Mahoney, July 9th, 2007 2:33PM
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David Beckham, marketing superstar, will arrive in America shortly. What can his new team, the league and American soccer fans expect?

Years ago, when he still ruled Major League Soccer as its commissioner, Doug Logan cited the league's single-entity structure, salary cap and low-cost tickets as the underpinnings of a pro league most fans, not just millionaires and mega-corporations, could afford to patronize.

"This is not a league for the swells," he proclaimed.

Well, guess what, Doug? The swells are circling and they're about to swoop down on MLS, especially at Home Depot Center, where sellout crowds -- real sellouts, not the 27,000 figure announced by the Galaxy with a half-empty stadium -- are anticipated once David Beckham alights.

The Beckham blitzkreig will change American soccer, and perhaps the U.S. sports universe, forever. His arrival will trigger mobs at training sessions, stampedes at appearances, huge crowds at Galaxy games home and away, and frenzied, breathless narration of his every move in public. MLS will move out of the sports-niche shadows into the harsh glare of pop-culture mania.

"Real Madrid did not want to lose David Beckham," said Logan's replacement, Commissioner Don Garber, back in March. His words ring much truer in retrospect, with Beckham's solid play for Real Madrid and England helping to reverse their floundering fortunes. "Anybody who thinks that is the case just doesn't understand what was going on out there. They were very, very unhappy David signed with us, and I don't think they ever expected that he would want to play here. They spent a great deal of time talking him down and talking the league down and then all of a sudden it's become nearly a global phenomenon.

"We've gone after a lot of different players over the last 12 years and not all of them have come through for us, and in this case we've got someone and something very exciting that will help position the league very differently for the next couple of years."

Times have changed in MLS, though tickets are still affordable and the MLS Players' Union had to go public with player salaries in the wake of its failure to seriously bump up paltry payments to developmental players. "Entertainment Tonight" reporters will elbow and jostle with those from ESPN for a few minutes of face t ime. Writers for People and US and Cosmopolitan magazines will lineup alongside counterparts from Newsweek and Time. MTV, meet MLS.

"We live in the soccer world," says soon-to-be-teammate Landon Donovan, "and most of us don't realize that outside of our world, just how famous he is, not just as an athlete, but as a celebrity. Since the announcement, everywhere I go, when I tell people what I do and who I play for, every time they say something like, 'Oh, yeah, isn't that Beckham's team?'

"They may not know me or our team or our sport, but they know him. It's really incredible just how well-known he is, not to sports fans or soccer fans, but to everybody."

Many athletes have had shoes, shirts, sunglasses, candy bars, magazines, surgeries, and the like named after them. Beckham has his own rule, at least informally, and MLS was so concerned about charges of tampering it had to shush up references to it.

Anschutz Entertainment President Tim Leiweke, whose dogged pursuit of Beckham triggered implementation of the Designated Player option -- which despite denials from team and league officials was indeed referred to as the "Beckham Rule" during discussions -- finally has his man. He says the team has sold an additional 7,000 season tickets in the wake of signing Beckham, to whom the Galaxy has pledged $50 million in salary ($27.5 million base) in a total package worth $250 million over the next five years.

"More people will follow our games, follow our teams and follow our players than in the past because of the status, the exposure and the following that he brings to us," said Leiweke when the announcement was made.

Translation: This league needs a kick in the butt, big-time, and AEG didn't pay $150 million to build a stadium for Pete Vagenas and Cobi Jones, or even Landon Donovan.

The stratospheric numbers of his ancillary income are tied to endorsements, sponsorships and revenue-sharing deals. A three-year deal with Gillette that expired this year, for example, paid him a reported $9 million. Yet prior to his signing with MLS, some industry experts -- the marketing industry, that is -- believed his wife, the former Spice Girl Victoria "Posh" Adams, to be more popular in America than her hunky husband.

The ensuing storm of publicity -- both in Europe and in the United States -- blew that perception out of the water, as well as even the wildest dreams of MLS executives. He might just charm this whole continent, or at least a significant segment of it. A live interview, with Beckham in Spain, on "Good Morning America" featured ace newswoman Diane Sawyer and veteran sports anchor Robin Roberts giggling throughout the conversation as Beckham modestly downplayed the money.

"I heard Robin Roberts say America didn't care about the World Cup," commented Garber. "The [2006] World Cup final [on ABC] outdrew the baseball average final. On CNN, one of the guys said nobody cares about soccer in America. Yet CNN has been chasing us for this story, CNN chases after us for World Cup stories.

"We need to break through to the establishment, to those influencers who are of another generation and not necessarily new Americans, ethnically and demographically, and show them how far soccer really has come in this country."

At Real Madrid, the club received 50 percent of all his endorsement income through a team rule that binds a player's name and image to that of the club. That won't be the case in LA. Nonetheless, he reportedly earned $32 million annually.

The precise formulas to be used in Beckham's deals vary but regardless, if a million Galaxy/Beckham jerseys are sold worldwide at an average price of between $60 and $100, as one source projected, there should be enough money to go around. Another source said a planned tour of Asia could net the Galaxy as much as $10 million in appearance fees, sponsorships, marketing deals and merchandise sales.

But gnawing away at this potentially staggering lucre is his recall to the English national team. His time and energy will dissipate in the wake of six international matches, related training sessions,and lengthy travel he could be encountering between mid-August and mid-November. Two scheduled midweek friendlies in October -- Vancouver and Minnesota -- are pending.

"I am concerned," says Galaxy coach Frank Yallop, whose team's rotten start to the season has ratcheted up worries about the pressure on Beckham to perform well in MLS. "I'm sure he's looking forward to playing in those games when he's called in. The other side of it is when he comes back, is he ready? Can he turn it around and play well for us? We'll only find that out when we get him back, but every time I've seen David play, he plays the same, no matter what's happened, three games in a week.

"He comes back from the England game injured, plays for Real Madrid and has a good game. He's amazing. We have a guy, no matter the conditions, is one of the fittest guys in the game today. That really helps him. I really don't think it will be that difficult for him to do."

Two of the MLS games in conflict are ESPN2 Thursday night games, three others are scheduled for Fox Soccer Channel, still another is slated for HDNet. He will miss several home games, before and after which he won't be available for photo shoots, meet-and-greets, and, of course, interviews. Both regular-season meetings against Red Bull New York are in jeopardy.

The Galaxy is readying as best it can but is sure to be overwhelmed. This is much bigger than MLS is prepared for. At its home opener in April, the Galaxy unveiled a special VIP entrance, complete with green canopy and blocked-off security zone. Security measures, including screening with metal-detectors, have been tightened and a private VIP parking lot has been arranged. The stadium-club menu will be sharply upgraded in anticipation of needs for recent season-ticket holders of a high profile: film producer Steven Speilberg and singer/actress Jennifer Lopez, to name two.

And you can't expect Beckham buddy Tom Cruise to rub elbows with the rabble, can you?

The team's travel plans are a closely guarded secret, since charters have been forbidden by the league office and securing private jets large enough to transport the entire team, coaches, and Beckham's security force -- while traveling with his family in England and Spain he was sometimes accompanied by as many as eight bodyguards -- isn't simple. And not every player is disappointed not to be flying charter.

"It'd be nice to fly charter, but one of the perks of this job, because we don't get paid millions, are the miles we get during the year," says keeper Joe Cannon, who does tend to look on the bright side and ignores the fact that at least one teammate will be getting paid millions. "We get a lot of miles and you don't get them on a charter. Either way is fine for me."

"No one knows what's going to happen. Maybe all of us will be swamped when he comes, because the media can't talk to him the whole time because there's not enough of him to go around. It might be bigger than all of us, but it's good for us. I think the organization here is a great organization. AEG does a pretty good job of catering to its fans, but Colorado, Columbus, Dallas, Kansas City, you don't know."

The biggest bump in season-ticket sales following the Beckham announcement, other than in Los Angeles, came in Toronto, where the approximately 6,000 tickets sold nearly doubled in a week. Beckham's first league appearance is projected to be the Aug. 5 match at BMO Field, which is full for most TFC games anyway.

Yallop expects an arrival in early July. A July 21 friendly at HDC against Chelsea is supposed to be his first appearance for the Galaxy and soon after that starts up the SuperLiga. There had been talk of him playing in the All-Star Game July 19 against Celtic but that has been all but ruled out.

As to the Beckham-esque coverage, we can expect ample doses of, here's just one example from a fashion-conscious Web site that shall remain anonymous (with British spellings and errors intact):

"His hairstyle was the same as when he played for England against Brazil at the New Wembley Stadium, where England were unlucky to only get a draw out a game that stretched the South American opponents .... He had previously had a high lift hair colour achieved with a lightening system. His colour had started to grow out and he was wearing his hair very short, leaving only the ends holding and high lift colour. After the haircut to put a modern twist, two mixer tones, 0/28 & 0/88 from the Wella Perfect range, were used to give a kaki cast to the hair, this almost gave a grey look in some lighting conditions. Kaki hair colours are used a little more at the moment, but make sure it is the right hair colour for either yourself or your client."

Yep, Beckham is truly big-time. I hope we're ready.

(This article originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of Soccer America Magazine.)

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