January 12, 2007

Shock Horror at Beckham Yank Soccer Deal

SO DAVID BECKHAM, the English soccer star, has ended his time at Real Madrid to play for five years at the Los Angeles Galaxy, a well-regarded team in America’s Major League Soccer. For agreeing to this deal, he will be paid a downright ridiculous sum of money – a sum that could even reach $250 million.

There’s no polite way to say this, so I may as well just spit it out. I think this will prove the worst decision in American business history since New Coke was introduced back in 1985. No, really. I’m serious. Paying that type of money for a well-regarded athlete in a respected sport would be ridiculous even by U.S. standards; but to pay that type of money for an over-the-hill 31-year-old in a sport few people care about is downright insane. To continue on this point, let’s review for a moment the relative popularity, and cultural weight, given to the array of professional sports* in the United States:


1. Football (professional and college)
2. Baseball (MLB and minor leagues)
3. Basketball (professional and college)
4. Hockey (NHL and minor leagues)
5. Golf
6. Tennis
7. Arena/indoor football
8. Boxing
9. Canadian football
10. Professional soccer
11. Jai alai

* Although some observers might consider auto racing “America’s No. 1 sport,” The Rant steadfastly refuses to recognize its most popular variant, stock car racing, as an actual honest-to-God sport. This is because The Rant can’t understand why anyone would spend time watching cars drive around in circles when one could instead watch the sports listed above. Still, were it included, it would probably rank No. 3 in this list.


I fully admit my quick survey is entirely unscientific, and I can imagine soccer fans are grinding their teeth at the injustice of it. After all, U.S. professional soccer is televised, and although only one MLS team makes a profit, each game attracts an average of 20,000 fans to the nation’s soccer stadia. This is impressive on its face, although put in proper perspective it becomes less so. Consider that the NFL’s European league, largely based in Germany, has similar attendance rates for its games and has at the very least an American television deal. But last time I checked, American football wasn’t taking Europe by storm, and there is no reason to think soccer will do so here.

Part of me wonders whether Mr Beckham truly realizes, in his gut, just how marginalized professional soccer is in the United States. I don’t know if one can unless one has lived in America for a while. Sure, we have soccer on television, but we also have the best games available from Latin America and overseas, so there’s less reason to watch American soccer. Plus, soccer’s a bit off compared to most American sports. Who the hell wants to watch a game where the score could, after 90 minutes plus extra time, very likely be 0-0? And what the hell’s with all the ties in the first place? God. I’ll go so far as to say the only advantage soccer has over American football is its team-based promotion and relegation system – which is quite cool – but MLS doesn’t even have that.

Part of me also wonders whether the Galaxy and its corporate ownership got a bit blinded by Mr Beckham’s star power. Reportedly, only $50 million of Beckham’s pay will result from his soccer salary, although he could earn a total of $100 million due to profit-sharing. The rest will come from endorsement deals and jersey sales. Still, it seems like a hell of a chance for the team, doesn’t it? It is one thing to get a bit of nice publicity during the cold month of January, but another thing entirely for that to translate into dollars and cents come spring, or whenever it is the MLS season starts. And two years from now, will people still go to soccer games because Beckham will be playing in them?

That all remains to be seen, of course. In the meantime, we can all sit back and watch as the cultural ambassadors from what’s left of Britain arrive in Los Angeles. I am certainly not an expert on the machinations of the entertainment-industrial complex, but I would be surprised if “Posh and Becks” get the same type of play they do in the rest of the world. I mean, he plays soccer. She used to be a Spice Girl. These might be tough hurdles to overcome in a nation which cares little about those things.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at January 12, 2007 12:17 AM | TrackBack
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