One of America’s leading sports business experts believes David Beckham’s mega-money deal to join Major League Soccer should be viewed more as a marketing tool than a player contract.
Former England captain Beckham will join Los Angeles Galaxy when his contract with Real Madrid expires on June 30 having agreed a five-year deal with the club and MLS believed to be worth around US$250m.
Despite fears that such a blockbuster move could cripple MLS in the same way its predecessor the NASL went to the wall in the early 1980s, Rick Horrow, the Visiting Expert on sports law at The Harvard Law School, said the Beckham deal made perfect sense.
Miami-based Horrow, who has advised sports governing bodies such as the NFL, PGA TOUR, NASCAR and MLS and facilitated deals worth more than US dollars $13b, said: “I certainly understand the 13 or 14 million extra dollars to Galaxy revenue. That’s easy to understand.
“The impact on ticket sales in markets like Houston, Washington DC and New York is also easy to understand. But I think the real long-term impact is the mainstream dose of credibility that this global superstar provides at a time when the MLS needed such a bridge.
“That’s hard to quantify but it’s certainly ever-present. You have a worldwide superstar who in a very short period of time is being perceived and recognised in the US like (the late NASCAR superstar driver) Dale Earnhardt and, according to a recent survey, some major entertainment figures in the US, before he even enters the MLS.
“So it’s a perception issue which down the road may even be more important than reality.”
Despite already boosting season-ticket sales at the Galaxy’s Home Depot Center and attracting increased ticket receipts at grounds, Beckham is due to visit following his expected debut in early July, the wider picture for MLS is teams playing to low crowds in cavernous American football stadia.
Various clubs such as the Stan Kroenke-owned Colorado Rapids and league newcomers Toronto FC have moved to soccer-specific stadiums with lower capacities and are enjoying a new lease of life playing in fuller stadia that generate better atmospheres on matchday.
Last weekend, however, Kansas City Wizards claimed a 1-0 victory over the visiting Columbus Crew in front of just 7,426 at Arrowhead Stadium, home of the NFL Kansas City Chiefs, while the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium near Boston, saw just 9,508 fans through the turnstiles as the Revolution beat Chicago Fire 3-1.
Yet Horrow rejected the premise that Beckham will not be able to carry the whole league onto the next level of acceptance among the American public.
“I think what this does is to provide extra fuel for the momentum that is being generated in another context. It’s right that this can’t be viewed in isolation and it will not be.
“But if the new stadium process continues, and that’s clearly one of the keys, and if the development leagues continue to produce homegrown talents and if television puts on an entertaining product, all of that will continue to be positive.
“If the Beckham push provides a little bit of a boost all of these other factors become even more important.”
Nor does Horrow agree that Beckham’s huge salary in comparison to the rest of the league’s players make the former Manchester United star’s wages unjustifiable.
The MLS players’ union published every footballer’s salary at the weekend, revealing that while Beckham’s basic salary with the Galaxy is US$5.5m per season, young American players drafted from college soccer were picking up as little as US$12,700 for the same period.
Galaxy youngsters starting out are on deals of US dollars 17,900 but the sports marketing expert said Beckham was worth every penny and his salary should not be compared with other players.
“Well, (New York Yankee baseball star) Alex Rodriguez is getting $US252m while some utility infielders in baseball who are playing well are getting US$300,000. So it’s not just happening in soccer and Beckham’s salary is only partially related to on-field performance.
“This is really a marketing stipend almost as much as it is a base salary and so it’s unfair in many ways to compare the other players on the team on a pure apples to apples basis.
“If Beckham does what’s expected of him, it goes way beyond scoring goals.”