David Beckham is getting back in the game with Major League Soccer.
The league announced Wednesday that the former LA Galaxy superstar has exercised his option for an MLS expansion team and will seek to build that team in Miami, a move rumored for months that now looks like a reality for soccer fans in South Florida.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber made the announcement with Beckham and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez during a press conference at Perez Art Museum Miami. Beckham’s ownership group will now work with MLS and local officials to finalize a deal for a world-class soccer stadium, but a timeline for when negotiations need to be completed or when a Miami team might join the league were not revealed.
Beckham and his representatives plan to build a privately funded stadium for the new team, and, , according to a report from The Miami Herald, met last week with Mayor Gimenez about 30 potential sites. A league statement released on Wednesday stated that an agreement for a new stadium must be finalized in order for MLS to come to Miami.
“We appreciate all that David has done as a player, an ambassador and as a global icon to help grow Major League Soccer,” Garber said in a statement. “We are thrilled that he will be an owner, and we look forward to him helping us achieve our goal of being one of the top soccer leagues in the world.”
Beckham, 38, became Major League Soccer’s first Designated Player in 2007, and led the Galaxy to two MLS Cup titles during his six seasons in the league. His arrival in LA, after trophy-filled years with European giants Manchester United and Real Madrid, ushered in a new era for the league, spurring bigger contracts for star players, seven new expansion teams and the addition of nine soccer-specific stadiums.
He left MLS following the 2012 season and finished his career with famed French club Paris Saint-Germain last year.
“From the beginning of my career in England to today in Miami, my journey has always been driven by my incredible passion for the game,” Beckham said in a statement. “Miami is a vibrant, diverse community that thrives on the same type of energy that fuels the international appeal of soccer, and I look forward to a dedicated, long-term partnership with this dynamic city and Major League Soccer. My experience with the Galaxy is what convinced me that I wanted to one day own an MLS team and it is thrilling to now see that dream coming true.”
Beckham joined a crowd of roughly 200 people for an event at Miami's John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall on Tuesday night to drum up support for the project, and told the crowd that he expects to make Miami's franchise an international success story.
“There's going to be a few bumps along the way, but we're going to make the team in Miami not just the best team in America,” Beckham said in brief remarks to the crowd, “we're going to take the team global.”
Beckham’s ownership group includes his business partner and long-time friend Simon Fuller and Bolivian wireless telecommunications tycoon Marcelo Claure, but the remainder of the ownership group will be finalized over the next several months.
Given a pre-negotiated rate to buy an expansion franchise as part of his contract with the league as a Galaxy player in 2007, Beckham began formally zeroing in on Miami for his expansion franchise last year.
"I can remember so well my discussions with David back in 2007,” Fuller said in a statement. “The vision was for David to play in America and to help the sport that he loves to grow in popularity. It was central to our plans that one day David would own his own team. Here we are, February 2014 in Miami, the dream is now a reality and the commitment to grow the sport that he loves continues."
The favored stadium site among Beckham’s group is reportedly Biscayne Bay’s PortMiami, but Beckham visited a number of sites last year, including SunLife Stadium, Marlins Park and the FIU stadium on the Florida International University campus.
According to a report in the Herald last year, roughly 25 acres of the county-owned PortMiami site could be made available – enough for a 25,000-seat stadium with expandable seating for various events – if the site is chosen.
MLS has had a franchise in South Florida before. The Miami Fusion played in Fort Lauderdale between 1997-2001. Despite boasting a colorful and successful roster that won the Supporters’ Shield in 2001, the club was contracted along with fellow Florida club the Tampa Bay Mutiny after that season.
MLS announced last year that it will make its first foray back into Florida when Orlando City SC join the league in 2015.
“Miami is a unique melting pot of cultures that is brought together by one common thread: soccer,” Gimenez said in a statement. “During the last several months there has been palpable excitement in our city when people talk about the possibility of a Beckham-owned team. Today’s announcement is celebrated across Miami.”