Thursday, January 11, 2007

David Beckham? Isn't that a movie?

OH MY GOD! David Beckham is coming to the US! David Beckham is com...Who? What's the big deal? Isn't he Mr. Posh Spice?

Seriously, I wouldn't know if it was David Beckham standing next to me even if he gave me a bicycle kick in the nuts. Twice. But Beckham is going to be hailed by US soccer fans and media as the next Pele, after signing to play, for an insane amount of money, with the MLS Los Angeles Galaxy.

This is all I know about Beckham, off the top of my head, without looking anything up.

He's British.

He plays soccer.

There was a movie made with his name in the title, but he wasn't in it.

He can bend it.

He's married to one of the Spice Girls, I think the posh one.

I believe he last played in the top Italian league for Real Madrid.

He was captain of the English World Cup team, and resigned his captaincy after they were knocked out.

He's at a Tiger Woods/Michael Jordan level of famous worldwide. Save for the USA, where his wife is 10X as well known.

He's not Pele, or that now fat "Hand of God" Argentine.

And...That's about all I got.

I think that's quite a bit for someone who watches soccer, well...Never. I consider myself somewhat in the sporting loop, so I'm going to glean facts about soccer just by osmosis. But how much of mainstream America, whose only soccer knowledge comes from watching their kid play in a youth league, or watching Rodney Dangerfield in "Ladybugs,"would be able to answer the question, "Who is David Beckham?" Other than say his name is in the title of a movie they may have seen on HBO. Or was it Cinemax?

So to assume that Beckham will lead the renaissance of US soccer is expecting too much. First off, Beckham has to want to be the face of MLS. From what I remember of most elite footballers who came to the US in the past, they were here to cash a big paycheck playing against inferior competition, heading here only when they were no longer able to compete at the top levels back home.

Since Beckham is in his early 30's, I'd venture a guess he has something left in the tank. How much, and how hard he is willing to work to stay at a high level, is yet to be determined. Considering he's already a millionaire many times over, and playing in L.A, where he can party with Hollywood's best and brightest, it makes you wonder if he's here to play soccer, or just play.

Is the Beckham signing good for MLS? Sure, he gives it some legitimacy and attention, much as Pele's did with NASL. But it tells you something, for someone who remembers what a big deal Pele was, that Detroit's NASL franchise was the Wheels, and big star was Trevor Francis, had to look up the name of the league. All that signing did was raise expectations for soccer in the US that could never be met in one generation. After all the hype, the NASL failed miserably.

With MLS giving players the kind of coin that Beckham is getting, even if the rest of the roster is paid under the restrictive salary cap rules, isn't that going down the slippery slope of the USFL? I'd love to see the team chemistry between one player getting hundreds of millions, and his teammate getting 50K. One is eating steak with jet setters and bedding a Spice girl every night, the other is eating at McDonalds and attempting to bed the hostess at Denny's. Not one Hell of a lot in common between the 2.

When I read claims that Beckham will boost attendance, and raise the league's profile in the US, it shows that the media hyperbole is going for the Pele angle. They said the same exact things then. Pele did give the league, and soccer overall in the US, a short boost, but once the novelty wore off...

So will David Beckham's coming to America take us by storm, and soccer to the next level in America? I doubt it. It's going to take an American star, and winning on a stage that will make the US really take notice (World Cup, I'm guessing), for soccer to even get to the level of the NHL. And to be honest, I think that's a stretch.

We may be generations away, if ever, from soccer becoming anything more than a niche sport. But soccer leagues, and fans of the game, will never stop trying. More power to them.


  1. Bend it like this. That's what most Americans are saying about this.

    It's a news item, and that's likely where it ends for most of us.

    Decent film though and 2 bonus points for your soccer acumen.

  2. If soccer is a "niche sport" then so is the NHL. MLS attendance and TV ratings are roughly the same as the NHL's American markets.

    The mistake non-soccer fans make is expecting MLS to be as big as MLB or the NFL. It's not and it never will be. But it's not ridiculous to conclude that in 10 years, MLS might have an average attendance of around 22-25K, which would officially usurp the NHL as North America's fourth "major" sport.

    Remember that it took the NFL roughly 35 years (1923-1958) to really break through as a major force in American sport, thanks largely to television and the 1958 NFL championship game.

    The other mistake non-soccer fans make is getting angry about soccer's popularity (or lack thereof) and assuming that soccer fans want to convert you. This is a response not unlike what homophobes assume about gay people (that they're interested in straight people) when in reality nothing could be further from the truth.

  3. I'm not sure whether this is more about Beckham coming over to "save" MLS or about Beckham cashing in all of his chips before his skills truly start to decline.

    As I understand it, MLS isn't actually on the hook for paying him all of that money. It's more about the league letting him keep all of the money from his "image rights" and endorsements.

  4. "This is all I know about Beckham, off the top of my head...

    ...I believe he last played in the top Italian league for Real Madrid."

    Um, so geography not a strong point then? What with Madrid being in Spain and all? :-)


  5. Trevor Francis1/19/2007 7:41 PM

    Wait, I swear I saw a soccer game at the Silverdome in the 80's. (Maybe it was the 70's) The team logo was a car heading a soccer ball. Yeah, that's right...