Becks will have a ball in Miami

The news that David Beckham is to resume his love affair with Major League Soccer will surprise few in North America.

It has long been known that the 38-year-old would take up the option of becoming a team owner, after his playing days ended.

Indeed, this formed part of his initial contract when he joined LA Galaxy in 2007, at the end of which he had – according to Forbes – earned $255 million.

Brought in to aid the growth of MLS, by the time he stepped away from the Galaxy in 2012, the league had added seven new teams.

Beckham’s link with Miami was on the lips of MLS commissioner Don Garber in July. It was then reported in August that the Beckhams were in the market to purchase the Versace mansion in the South Beach area of Miami, originally valued at $125m.

The rumour mill has been turning ever since, but this most recent announcement appears to confirm what many had known for months.

MLS is not like any other football league. The game itself is the same, of course, but much else will be quite alien to those familiar with football in almost every other nation.

Anyone au fait with other North American sports, such as the NFL or NBA – American football and basketball respectively – will already have a head start in understanding MLS and the reason Beckham’s bid for a club is anything but straightforward.

Firstly, he was unlikely to be granted ownership of a current club – MLS preferring to use his star status to tap into a new market – and so, with no promotion or relegation, the former England international would have to wait for the league to welcome an ‘expansion’ team.

MLS currently boasts 19 teams, including three in Canada, five on the west coast of the United States, heavy emphasis in the north east (New York, New England, Washington DC, Philadelphia and Columbus), as well as two in Texas and a general spread across the central belt (Chicago, Kansas City, Colorado and Salt Lake).

It has its heart set on reaching 24 teams by 2020, although joining US football’s top table is by invitation only and is not achieved by success on the field, rather by a whole host of criteria.

A key element is the health of the local area, and its hunger for the beautiful game. Is there political, media and fan support? Does the team have its own stadium? Can the local market sustain a football team? Do the owners have the passion, management savvy and financial clout to be deserving of an MLS team?

Having a good team is not top of the priorities. The reason is that MLS remains in its infancy and abides by a strict business model. That means being operated as a single entity, such that each of the 19 teams is ‘owned’ by the league but run by investors who are – in a sense – shareholders.

They make decisions about the league as a whole and not just their own club.

The NFL’s new TV deal kicks in after this season, and runs through to the end of 2022. It’s worth $3bn a year. Compare that with the current deal that MLS has with NBC, reportedly worth just $10m a year.

Add to the equation the billions swirling around college sport and soccer plays fourth or fifth fiddle.

It is vital, therefore, that new additions, carefully selected, add to the growth and are not a drain on the limited resources.

True, MLS continues to grow – but it has not always been the case, and Miami was once a dirty word in US football circles.

The south Florida city has previously dipped its toe into MLS waters, with Miami Fusion joining in 1998, two years after the league was launched.

A combination of lack of local interest (they were averaging crowds of 11,000 at the end), limited corporate support and a new league unable to financially prop up a struggling team, meant the Fusion folded at the end of the 2001 season.

Miami, if confirmed, will be the third of the planned five expansion teams, with the Manchester City-backed New York City set to join for the 2015 season.

And the Sunshine State even looks like having two teams back in MLS, with Orlando City – formerly the Austin Aztex franchise and coached by former Everton and Stoke midfielder Adrian Heath – expected to have their membership rubber-stamped some time soon.

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