Friday, October 4, 2013

Beckham group is in final stages of Miami expansion bid

David Beckham is in the midst of another shopping spree; his most expensive purchase to date. Beckham is in the final stages of becoming the owner of a new Major League Soccer franchise. The team will most likely be located in Miami, Florida.

Beckham, who retired from the MLS last spring, had a clause in his LA Galaxy contract permitting him to purchase a new MLS franchise at a 25% discount. However, that option is set to expire this December, therefore it is believed that this announcement will be finalized in the next two months.

The biggest concerns at the moment are the location of a stadium and its ownership group. Sources have speculated that Beckham will compile a powerhouse-ownership group consisting of Bolivian billionaire, Marcelo Claure; Miami Dolphin’s owner, Steve Ross; and American Idol creator and businessman, Simon Fuller.

In reviewing potential locations for an expansion team, Beckham has placed Miami atop his list. This past summer, Beckham and his business associates made several stops in South Florida to scout potential stadiums for the franchise. One of the discussed locations is Sun Life Stadium, the home of the Miami Dolphins. This stadium has a booming capacity of 75,000, much more than desired capacity for a MLS setting. The league has stressed its desire to utilize a stadium with more intimate soccer-specific environment. A more fitting option includes Florida International University’s football stadium that has a capacity of 20,000. Also noteworthy is the fact that FIU’s stadium underwent major renovations in 2007.

The third and most intriguing option is that University of Miami’s architecture students will have the opportunity design a new stadium. This proposal came from a London investment group, led by Alessandro Butini. Butini proposed the campaign, “MLS-to-Miami”, which would include a partnership with the University of Miami School of Architecture. Miami’s architecture students would have the ability to develop ideas for a soccer-specific stadium. Since this week’s announcement of the campaign, the website has been activated to provoke fan involvement during the design process. 

This expenditure would come as a privately funded operation. Butini had previously spoken to MLS commissioner, Don Garber, about his idea. Commissioner Garber has cited that selecting a stadium is the most important variable of the expansion process. Butini has made it clear the ideal stadium would have a capacity of 18,000 to 20,000. Additionally, Butini mentions the stadium would need to include, “good drainage, FIFA compliant, luxury suites and first-class media facilities.” In a presentation to students and faculty of Miami’s architecture program, Butini claimed a project of this magnitude would amount to between $70 and $85 million.

Butini is confident that Miami is the best location for an MLS team. He believes the city would be great because of its changing demographics over the past 15 years. “Miami is an event-driven town, and my idea is to make a great fan experience at the stadium so people will want to be there.” 

The MLS currently has 19 teams but wishes to expand to 24 by the year 2020. Most recently, the New York Yankees and Manchester City announced it would fund the expansion team, New York City FC, for a fee of $100 million. NYC FC will compete starting in 2015. If all goes according to plan, Beckham’s team will be ready to play beginning in 2016.
This will not be Miami’s first MLS team as the Miami Fusion, who were formed in 1998, competed for four seasons before folding due to a lack of interest within the community. Now, with MLS viewership and attendance on the rise, it seems a second attempt at a Miami franchise is more stable. Currently, the MLS does not have teams south of D.C. or east of Houston. An expansion team in Florida will provide the MLS a refreshing attempt to revive the culture of professional soccer in relatively unexplored region. With Beckham’s polarizing name and Miami’s desirable location, it will not be difficult for a Miami expansion team to attract initial interest amongst Floridians. 

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