It’s no surprise that soccer today is all about money. I don’t mean this in a nostalgic “Oh, don’t you miss when everyone was willing to play for free and there were no sponsors?” way. I don’t care about some company name being on the front of a jersey (though, really, LA Galaxy - we’re all supposed to pretend like Herbalife is a legitimate sponsor?). I’m talking about the basics of who owns the club.
There’s a reason you don’t see Leeds United jerseys everywhere you look. They’ve been English football champions more frequently than Manchester City over the past 40 years, but that doesn’t make any difference. If someone had told you in 1995 that Chelsea and Manchester City would sell out a MLB stadium, they would have laughed you out of the room. Who would want to watch two teams that had only won three championships over a combined 200 year history? Throw in a Russian oligarch and Middle East Sheik, though, and we’ve got ourselves a game.
So what does this have to do with Miami FC? (I’ve decided this is what they will be called, though I’m still open to the Miami Beckhams). MLS has made no secrets about wanting to be one of the best leagues in the world. Commissioner Garber has even promised we will see it in the next decade or so. But how does this happen?
There are two schools of thought. One is the route that was taken with Portland, Seattle, et al. You take a team that already has a strong fan base, you bring them up to the (relatively) big leagues), and you put their culture on a pedestal for all to see. And it works. Seattle and Portland could be the two worst teams in the league, and I would watch the game on TV because their fans are just THAT awesome. Those are the games that the casual sports fan flipping through channels might stop and watch - even if they don’t like soccer. As Beckham tours the country looking for the best way to spend $25 million, this would be one way to spend it. Take a San Antonio, or a Carolina, or an Orlando, and arrive on the scene with a stadium full of rabid fans.
But there are two problems with this scenario. One is Beckham himself. Beckham is Mr. Glamour. LA was the perfect fit for him. New York would work great as well. But both of those cities already have two teams. And, as much as I love San Antonio, Raleigh, and Orlando, they aren’t flashy towns. Second problem - remember that thing about the money over everything else?
That leads to the other school of thought on how to grow MLS into a top world league. Basically, you flood it with cash. Before the Premier League, there was variety at the top of the English pack. In the past fifteen years? There hasn’t been a winner that wasn’t named Chelsea, Arsenal, or Manchester (fill in the blank). Don’t think the MLS hasn’t noticed. Top talent won’t come to this league until this league can pay for top talent. So, it’s of little surprise that there is another name behind Beckham’s: billionaire Marcelo Claure. I don’t have facts to back this up, but I doubt that Claure’s money is going to follow Beckham if he goes anywhere other than Miami. And, simply enough, unless they are in hiding, there aren’t any billionaires in other US cities waiting to bankroll a team.
All of this adds up to one thing: the next MLS team is coming out of Miami with Beckham at the helm. Maybe, as has been discussed in other places, it will be a package deal that will bring Orlando along with it. But, either way, Miami is there. Is Miami the best place for an MLS team? No. In fact, Miami isn’t a horrible place for any team. The Marlins play in solitude, the Dolphins have a few people who accidently wander in, and the Heat are having trouble selling out NBA Finals games that feature one of the best teams ever assembled. So, unless the inaugural Miami FC team features Messi, Suarez, and Ronaldo, don’t expect any record-breaking attendance.
But that’s just the way it is. In soccer, now more than ever, money talks. Welcome to the league, Miami FC. Hurricane season should be interesting.