Am I going have to move Miami farther up the MLS Expansion Power Rankings!, now that Team Beckham has permission to buy the land in order to build a stadium with no parking? Look, just because Winston Churchill managed the logistics enough to get the troops to the peninsula, that didn’t mean Gallipoli was likely to be a success.
I read too much into these things, but look at this tweet from Michelle Kaufman.
The league “appreciates” the “assist” in “efforts” to “try” to get a team the league already approved? Four degrees of separation from actual enthusiasm serves as a very healthy reminder that this particular team wasn’t chosen through fan efforts, but through contractual obligation.
It’s amazing to recall that Beckham didn’t have to put himself through this, at least not specifically in Miami. Anywhere but New York, is what Paul Kennedy reported back in 2013. MLS officially announced that Beckham was going to start a team in Miami back in February 2014. Four teams have been added since then. To put that in perspective: since Beckham announced his MLS intentions, Chivas USA dissolved, and its replacement was formed and has broken ground on a stadium.
Of course, no one knew back in 2007 that, ten years later, a $25 million fee would be a huge, huge bargain for an MLS team in a major metropolitan area. The year before, Toronto bought in for $10 million.
Would MLS be heartbroken if Beckham’s plans fell through, freeing up a spot worth up to $125 million or more? Well, no one believes in Beckham’s star power more than MLS at this point, a successful Miami team would be a tremendous coup, and frankly no one other than David Beckham would have gotten even this far towards a Miami MLS team in the Marlins Park era. He is a persistent fellow, this Beckham. Although a lot of people would be persistent if it meant a 500% return on investment.
One which Beckham may have earned. An MLS expansion fee of $25 million would have been bad craziness in 2007. Rumors that popped up around October 2013 made mention of a 25% discount off the existing fee, but since the official announcement we’ve only heard the $25 million figure.
Earlier in 2013, Manchester City and the New York Yankees bought in to MLS for $100 million. A 25% discount off $100 million would be - $74 million? $76 million? Something like that. So, even in 2013, $25 million was a bargain. Now it’s almost a heist.
Beckham himself was a big reason that MLS expansion fees have reached the ninth digit. But according to Jeff Carlisle, some current owners are ungrateful.
It would be churlish to hope Beckham fails so that a more stable team might get its chance, but 1/22 of $150 million is $6.8 million and change, while 1/22 of $25 million is a bit over one million. Five million bucks buys a lot of churl.
In Carlisle’s article, Miami Beckham United pasha Tim Leiweke (whose name I think I’ve heard somewhere before) actually addressed those concerns, saying that the league needs Miami and “a deal is a deal.”
I don’t know what’s in that deal, but apparently Beckham is stuck with Miami. If Beckham at this point could have simply chosen some other location, I can’t help but think some wiseguy owner in, say, San Diego or Cincinnati would simply have, literally, bought Beckham’s franchise. The analogous example was, of course, Chivas USA – why wouldn’t a sane owner simply have packed up and moved from second banana status in Carson to literally anywhere else?
I think the answer is that the league forbids it, and unlike the NFL, has the contractual power to stop it. Expansion fees are rising delightfully high – probably less than the value of many existing franchises (like Chivas USA) and certainly more than Beckham’s promised stake. Somewhere tucked in the contracts, especially in the current expansion mania, are pretty solid no-takesies-backsies clauses.
If the Seattle Sounders move to Oklahoma City next week, of course, then I will look very silly. But I don’t think I’m that far off. Of course, Beckham might be staying with Miami for the same reason Vergara stuck with Los Angeles so long – both were strong-willed men, not raised in wealth or power, who have grown accustomed to achieving their goals. This wouldn’t be the first time ego has played a role in American soccer, and it won’t be the last.
There must be some reason why San Diego didn’t simply bring Beckham into its ownership group in exchange for his golden ticket. Do Beckham and Landon Donovan not get along, or something?
As far as other expansion news – sorry, this is bizarrely fascinating to me, and it wasn’t like the Venezuela game was Thrillsville ’17, was it? – I still have low hopes for San Diego in the near term. Just as many people were impressed with David Beckham’s ability to buy three acres, many were impressed with MLS San Diego’s achievement in keeping an early special election alive on the basis of the mayor’s promised veto of a City Council resolution. That’s not terribly impressive.
Yes, San Diego – like Miami – is a wonderful community that MLS has pined for. That was true when Chicago joined the league, it was true when Salt Lake City joined the league, it was true when San Jose moved to Houston, it was true when Toronto, Philadelphia, Seattle, Portland, Montreal, Vancouver….you get the point.
Think of it this way – MLS has been pioneers in an unprecedented, and uncharted, American soccer landscape. And what did pioneers do? SETTLE. Less romantic but more feasible locations can be hand quicker than you can say Real Salt Lake without laughing. (In other words, about three years.)
Decades from now, when our nation’s colleges and universities offer doctorates in Major League Soccer Studies, it will be argued amongst the learned whether it was better to take an existing lower division team and soup it up to MLS status, or to create one out of whole cloth. Toronto, Philly, Atlanta, NYCFC Real Salt Lake and (depending on how you look at it) San Jose were summoned from chaos; Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Orlando, Montreal and (depending on how you look at it) Houston were built brick by brick with the labor of centuries.
There’s no real help or precedent there, so we will have to see whether larger metropolitan areas with no teams are better choices than smaller cities with successful teams – which are pretty much the main choices here. I’m convinced that the transition from lower pros to the upper pros will be nearly seamless for Sacramento, Tampa Bay, and San Antonio…and rather less so for places that don’t have teams and stadium plans already ticking over.
Then there’s Cincinnati. The ownership group – like most ownership groups, a bunch of local plutocrats whose names would mean nothing to you if you lived more than about six counties away – has done a fantastic job of promoting FC Cincinnati. One of the things our descendants in Advanced MLS Divination classes will study is the amazing corporate and business promotion behind this team.
Here is but one example:
That's a local brewery trotting out a batch in honor of a lower division American soccer team. I assume Mr. Lindner had something to do with at least encouraging Moerlein to do this. But neither Lindner nor Moerlein would have bothered if there weren't at least someone tugging on the line. On your way to a Cincinnati-area grocery store to purchase this beer, you will probably see your fellow citizens in FC Cincinnati shirts, available in a dizzying variety. This one, a dual salute to FCC and the Cincinnati Zoo's baby hippo, is the best...if not the most officially licensed.
This sort of thing is impressive, effective, and unavailable to Miami and San Diego. Their efforts haven't, and probably can't, include games, merchandise, beer, fun, and so forth. MLS teams have tried expensive local promotions before...and to be fair, any promotion in places like New York or Los Angeles is going to be hideously expensive. Why, to even get out the word about a soccer team in, say, New England, you'd have to be some kind of giant in the sports landscape, and probably a billionaire to boot.
But I digress. What may put FCC over the top is, of all things, that lovable relic the US Open Cup. The Columbus Crew are coming to town.
A record-setting attendance in front of MLS fans and personnel will probably not go unnoticed. If FCC were to win the game – and the home form of the USL team along with the Crew’s current swoon make this a highly distinct possibility – it will be one of the year’s sports highlights. A practical demonstration of a new and fierce MLS rivalry – and MLS loves its rivalries – should be enough to allay doubts about the college football stadium, which would immediately supplant Yankee Stadium as the most hated venue in MLS to visit.
A midweek sellout for a US Open Cup match might even inspire the Lindners to spend their own money on a stadium.
And this game will be the first match of a rivalry that already has perhaps the best derby nickname in the world. You can keep your Clasicos and Freeway Series and Little Brown Jugs. Oh, sure the FCC official site is calling it the Ohio Derby, but that’s not going to be the name.
That is a sign visible from both directions on Interstate 71 between Columbus and Cincinnati. It is by far the most interesting landmark on a very plain stretch of America. So appropriately – inevitably – the first professional sports rivalry between Cincinnati and Columbus has been named the Hell is Real Cup.
The only thing remaining, then, would be to add Dayton to MLS as well as Cincinnati. Because the only thing that would be better than the Hell is Real Cup? The Hug Me Jesus Trophy.
That's the Lux Mundi, crown jewel of the Solid Rock Church in Monroe, Ohio, a little town between Cincinnati and Dayton. This is actually a replacement statue - a previous one was struck by lightning. I think Solid Rock embodies the most constant and enduring facet of American soccer - the inability to take a hint.