Why David Beckham’s Current Plan for MLS Miami Is Destined For Eventual Failure

After David Beckham’s press conference to formally announce that he has bought the franchise rights to a Major League Soccer team that will call Miami home, I walked away from the event with more questions than answers, a lack of confidence that Beckham and his investors are anywhere close to having a sound financial plan in place, and  — most worryingly of all — the opinion that Beckham does not understand the Miami market.

In Wednesday’s press conference, Beckham held up Seattle as an example of what he wants to see in Miami, with fans walking en-masse to the stadium:

“The [stadium] will be downtown. I think it’s important that we are in this part of the city because I’ve seen what [the owners of the Miami Heat] have done. I’ve seen the arena. I’ve seen the buzz.

“Soccer fans love to commute. They love to walk. I’m hoping that’s the same in Miami.

“I’ve seen what it’s like in Seattle. I’ve seen the fans, the way the passion is there. I know we’re going to have that here.”

Without any shadow of a doubt, Miami is not Seattle. There are huge differences between both cities:

1) Residents of South Florida love to drive. It’s rare that you see people walking down the streets, partly because of the heat and humidity, but South Florida and Miami is definitely not a walking community.

2) Downtown Seattle is not downtown Miami. Downtown Seattle is a thriving area where people live, work and play. While downtown Miami is growing and under renovation, there isn’t that same buzz downtown. You don’t get a sense that you’re in a community. Once the five o’clock whistle sounds, there’s typically a mass exodus of people as they head north, west or south.

Beckham and Claure have declared that they have their hearts set on building a stadium in downtown Miami. Both men envision soccer fans parking their cars in downtown Miami and then walking across the Port Boulevard bridge which, at its shortest distance, is 0.5 miles uphill. That doesn’t sound that bad, but that’s the best case scenario. With 20,000 fans in the downtown area, it’s possible that fans will have to park farther away in downtown so the walk would be greater. Even at 0.5-1.0 miles, you have to consider the scorching heat and humidity. If you’ve ever walked in South Florida for that distance between March-September, you’ll know how uncomfortable the weather is.

When Beckham said that soccer fans love to commute and love to walk, that’s true. But that doesn’t mean that the same applies to South Florida. And for Beckham to believe that, it shows how out of touch he is with the South Florida region. I’d like to see Beckham take the walk himself in the sweltering summertime heat to get a better understanding of what it feels like.

If Beckham does decide on the PortMiami option, walking is the only solution to get that many fans over the bridge to the stadium. There’ll be little to no parking available around the stadium itself.

While Beckham has unrealistic dreams of Miami becoming a Seattle, other issues persist. To date, Beckham’s perception of Miami has been largely driven by his interaction with the Miami Heat — going to NBA games in downtown Miami, and hanging out with basketball stars such as LeBron James. To my knowledge, he has attended zero soccer games in South Florida, but has attended several Heat games as well as being wined and dined by Miami-centric businessmen Marcelo Claure, the Bolivian billionaire, and Carlos A. Gimenez, Miami-Dade County Mayor.

Not that there’s anything wrong with going to Heat games, but Beckham’s visits to the Miami Heat games have clouded his vision and given him an inaccurate impression of what the South Florida sports market is like. Beckham would be wise to experience games at other local stadia for a team that doesn’t have the winning buzz of the Heat — namely the Florida Panthers ice hockey team, with the fourth worst attendance in the league this season, and the Miami Dolphins who, while they have an average attendance of 60,000, are still in the bottom half of the NFL when it comes to the success of putting butts in a seat.

When Beckham is asked about Miami, he consistently mentions the Miami Heat as his frame of reference. It’s clear that Beckham wants his Miami MLS team to be the equivalent of the Miami Heat — a global brand, filled with star players and champions. But the Miami Heat and NBA are not MLS. The salary caps are a lot stricter in Major League Soccer, so Beckham isn’t going to be able to build a team with world-class players in each position. The success of the Heat can be an aspiration to work towards for Beckham’s team, but the sooner he ejects himself from the Heat buzz and tries to connect with the soccer community in South Florida, the better.

While the glitz and glamor were on full display in this week’s press conference next to the water in downtown Miami, there were several other worrying signs. There’s no guarantee that Beckham and his lobbyist will be able to convince the State of Florida to provide funding to help pay for part of the stadium construction. If that fails, what’s Plan B? In terms of investors, Marcelo Claure still appears to be the only key figure even though LeBron James has expressed interest in becoming involved. At the same time, the 20-30 supporters who were in the crowd to sing, chant and raise their scarves are the same 20-30 fans who have spammed Don Garber with e-mail for the past few years, as well as showing their support outside arenas and in social media to try to bring a team here. By now, you would expect the same group of 20-30 fans to have swelled to ten times that number.

The Miami MLS market could be success. And with Beckham’s name attached to the franchise, the first season is guaranteed to generate a buzz with soccer moms, teenage girls and soccer fans going to the stadium for a glimpse of Beckham and to watch a game of soccer. The worrying concern is what happens after season one ends and the novelty has worn off. Based on the current path that Beckham has committed to, he’s going the wrong direction and has set his heart on a stadium project that, while it’s in a beautiful location, will fail.

Overall, my chiefest concern all along has been that the team has been advising him and sharing what makes the Miami market different has been too focused on downtown Miami. The Mayor is, of course, going to push his own agenda. And Claure, like Beckham, is infatuated with the Miami Heat.

31 thoughts on “Why David Beckham’s Current Plan for MLS Miami Is Destined For Eventual Failure”

    1. I agree, but I think it’s important for him to get a better sense of the job ahead of him. By focusing his attention on the Miami Heat, he’s got a false sense of reality to what South Florida is like.

      1. I thnk the Miami Heat’s attendance patterns are a very good observation of Miami, but only if you look at the entire 25 or so year picture.

        What you’ll see s that people will back a winner. that’s doesn’t make Miami a frontrunner, it makes than a typical market.

        The other thing you notice is that, when there’s no special reason to attend, Miamians won’t.

        You can’t guarantee success, but one fact about MLS is that, regardless of how inept you were last year, you can turn over your roster and re-invent your team pretty quickly. Get a strong scouting staff, take advantage of your global connections and, if you sustain success, the bandwagon will stay pretty full.


      2. Not to mention, when the Heat do have a home game. The fans don’t even show up until half time (at least during the playoffs), they were constantly showing empty seats for the 1st couple quarters. My point being, it’s trendy to go to Heat games, more than I think people have passion for the Heat. Now if you equate that to the MLS angle, you may have the same fickle crowd of fans.

  1. Good critique. As a resident of Palm Beach County driving 2 hours to Orlando to support that franchise seems less daunting than driving to downtown Miami thru rush hour traffic, parking, then walking half a mile or more to the stadium.

  2. For a part of the world that doesn’t really support most of their other big league teams, no idea why Miami was chosen.

    This is a real estate deal for Beckham and his people. There is also a reason the Marlins now play indoors, hope Becks thought about that too.

  3. I call this the “I have a dream” syndrome when starting a business. You get those rose colored glasses on and everything is not only possible, but a lead pipe cinch.

    Unfortunately, successful businesses are not built that way. Wishful thinking is no substitute for research and sound planning. I think Beck’s reach may have exceeded his grasp here. Time will tell.

  4. I thought the new stadium will be adjacent to Sun Life, which I thought may work. However if the stadium will be in downtown Miami I am not so certain if the Miami MLS franchise would get that far off the ground.

    Unless the Dolphins somehow get involved and try to replicate Seattle.

    1. That was my hope — that they would build next to Sun Life, but they’ve said that it’ll definitely be downtown.

  5. Chris, one thing I didn’t see in your story is how Beckham plans to market his club to the ethnic communities. That’s a challenge facing many MLS clubs and Miami wouldn’t be an exception, would it?
    Did Beckham address this issue? And in your opinion, Chris, how important is targeted marketing going to be in Miami?

    1. It’s an excellent question, and it’s one that I had that I wanted to ask Beckham but he ran out of time and had to leave. A reporter asked the same question earlier in the press conference, but Beckham didn’t answer the question at all and instead talked about opening soccer academies for kids.

      My guess is that Beckham would say he’s targeting the residents of Miami no matter what their ethnicity is.

    1. What do you expect when there has been zero MLS presence in the southeastern United States for 13 years?

      You can go to any major city in the United States and you’ll find plenty of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United fans. The number of fans of MLS clubs dwindle in comparison no matter where you go in the States.

  6. I’m so glad someone as good as you actually understands our market. If this idea goes on as planned the attendance for games will literally be in the hundreds. The site has to be much farther west than that!!

  7. The writer makes it sound like Becks and his team have done zero research into the project. A pretty shallow report with little understanding of why that area for the build has been made.

    1. You would think that. But after monitoring the story for several months and attending the press conference, I didn’t get that feeling. It was as if they asked the mayor which plots of land were available next to Miami Heat’s arena. And then they fell in love with the PortMiami location.

  8. I’ll throw this into the mix.

    David Beckham is no more than a figure head for the project. He’ll bring his image to the table, but the real brains behind it will be his Svengali pal Simon Fuller. for those of you that remember The Spice Girls, that’s where he made his name and he obviously has a knack for turning sh1t to gold.

    I’m presuming NYRB and Chivas are foreign owned? Orlando will be to a degree as would Miami (if it happens). Is there any mistrust of foreign owners? I presume less so than football or baseball as it’s a foreign sport?

  9. Chris you know the market well and you raise some great points (most of which I agree with), but let me add a couple items and slightly disagree with you on others.

    1. I think the picture you paint of downtown Miami is a little dated. While there was a time when downtown was vacated at night (I know because I lived there ten years ago), times have changed. According to this NY Times article published last April occupancy is way up and new construction is now planned. This was unheard of in 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/01/realestate/commercial/miamis-condo-market-rebounds-stoking-a-fresh-building-boom.html?_r=0 I will agree though downtown Seattle kicks Miami’s butt. I spent a week in Seattle and fell in love with it.

    2. Another commenter raised concerns over the commute. Most games will be on the weekend. Commuting downtown on the weekend from Broward and Palm Beach is a non issue.

    3. While these guys have their heart set on the port land, ultimately I don’t think they can get their hands on it. It makes zero sense on all levels, and I’m guessing that zoning may be a problem.

    4. They would be better off with a site in the design district. Close to lots of condos , nearby to metro mover stations (which provide access to people living in Brickell and downtown)

    5. WHile I agree that nothing of substance was said, I don’t think we can make the leap that it means these guys don’t have their act together. It was a PR move. It was clear there was no intent to educate the public in any way

    6. The state helping to pay issue, as you put it….are you referring to the subsidy for all pro sports teams in Florida? That money shouldn’t be hard to get at all.The issue the Dolphins ran into with their reno project was related to an increased in bed taxes. That is totally different than the subsidy the soccer team would be asking for.

    1. One last thing…if you wanted to support the notion that this project will fail simply because Miami is the most front running town in the country, and they only turn out for the biggest of events, then I would accept your statement at face value. Some things defy logic. There are plenty of reasons why MLS should be a success in downtown Miami. But somehow Miami will find a way to defy all odds and screw it up.

  10. Shouldn’t Beckham be giving something back to the footballing community in Leytonstone that supported him as a kid or is that not glamorous enough?

  11. i think Becks forgot the part where the “Miami” Fans left with 27 seconds left of Game 6 in last year’s NBA Finals thinking they’ve lost it. Same people that will be showing up to watch the MLS team, lol.

    It’s definitely bound to fail, Miami and their Professional Teams attendance track records speaks for itself.

  12. This article brings up some valid points about Miami, namely, the humidity in the summer and its less than loyal sports fans. However, given the history of negativity towards everything MLS from this site, I am inclined to believe this is nothing more than another attempt to portray everything that MLS does as a perceived or potential failure. Despite this site’s best efforts to undermine MLS, the league is still around, continues to produce players for the US national team and its of play continues to improve. Miami may not be a success. I actually think that having a Soccer franchise in Miami is misguided. But I also believe MLS’ best days lay ahead with or without Miami. Long live our own domestic Soccer league.

    1. It doesn’t matter what I write, you’re going to criticize it anyway.

      I have no agenda. I speak my mind and share my opinions. If you don’t like them, you can always go to the safe harbor of MLSSoccer.com. The articles there are carefully reviewed to make sure they paint a pretty picture.

    2. I’ve been critical of some MLS coverage on this site too Remy, but I think Chris was completely fair in this article. I think instead of constantly looking at the Heat, looking at teams like the Houston Dynamo who have large Honduran and Jamaican population brought in five international players from those countries (and Garcia is the only DP in the lot). On top of that, they have had national teams games from those countries played in their stadium. But I think targeting the soccer fans in the community, instead of trying to make it the “it” thing to do like the Heat is the path to sustained success.

  13. Miami’s politicians have created a transit nightmare for citizens and visitors. Miami Heat fans don’t appear until the second half of games because most of them are stuck in horrendous traffic on the way in, through Biscayne Blvd., when the traffic backs up all the way to Interstate 95.

    If Beckham had done his market research, himself, he might have questioned who and when and how long it will take for ticket holders to get to his stadium. Obviously, he didn’t.

    A better clue than the Miami Heat would be to examine why the billion dollar fiasco called the Marlins Stadium has failed to attract audiences. But hey, I love the beautiful game. Come on down, so long as it is not on the taxpayer’s dime or through subsidies.

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