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.