Reports indicate that on Wednesday, February 5th, David Beckham, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, and other Miami officials will hold a press conference to officially announce Beckham’s efforts to bring MLS to Miami and gather support for stadium funding. This long-anticipated news is very exciting for the league and for the city of Miami. But there are always two sides to any situation, and a new MLS franchise in Miami, even with David Beckham as a majority investor, is no different.
Beckham came to America, energized MLS and drew new fans to the sport, bringing awareness to the game and publicity to the league at unprecedented levels. Some have called the aura surrounding David “The Beckham Effect”, as success seems to follow Beckham no matter where he goes or what he invests in. Now he will attempt to bring an MLS franchise to Miami and test the strength of the Beckham Effect. As Beckham and his financial supporters are taking steps down the road toward an MLS franchise, the city of Miami and its inhabitants might be caught in the wake of the Beckham Effect. While the prospect of the 22nd MLS franchise calling Miami home is an exciting one for many fans of the game and of the league, there are some implications of that dream becoming reality that are not often talked about.
Most recently, Mayor Carlos Gimenez of Miami-Dade County met with the Miami Beckham United group to discuss possible locations for the stadium, an integral part of the process of MLS expansion. Beckham has hired Brian Ballard, a lobbyist from Tallahassee, to help work with Florida legislatures to approve and fund a stadium. Ballard explained that local taxes are off limits in funding the project. The franchise would have to get legislative approval to receive funding. Legislatures would have to be convinced that the team would make more money than it would receive in its subsidy, a reported $2 million a year for twenty years. MLS appears to accept Beckham’s potential ownership of an MLS team in Miami, Florida with open arms.
There is no doubt that Beckham and his camp have carefully considered the sports market of Miami. Over the past several years, the Miami Heat of the NBA have found great success both on and off the court with the help of superstar players. However, the Heat seem to be the the exception to the rule as the Miami Marlins of the MLB rank ,almost last in league attendance, and the Miami Dolphins of the NFL have had disagreements with the local politicians in acquiring funding to renovate their stadium.
Miami has not had a successful or sustainable history of professional soccer either. In 1973, the Miami Toros joined the NASL with great promise. Within three years the Toros moved to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, then to Minnesota in 1983 due to financial struggles. After winning the Supporters Shield in the 2001 MLS season, the Miami Fusion contracted after only four years in the league. Miami Fusion owner Ken Horowitz explained in a press conference announcing the organization’s decision to shut down that
…the South Florida market just has too many hurdles that we simply cannot overcome…The fan base is very diverse down here and many people simply don’t have local ties to the area and have trouble identifying with the local sports teams.
Unfortunately for soccer fans in Miami not even a successful product on the field could save the Fusion from folding.
Miami still remains one of the poorest cities in the United States. In 2012, Forbes magazine awarded Miami the title of the most miserable city in the U.S. based on factors such as taxes, violent crime rates, unemployment rates, and foreclosure rates. Forbes explains that there is “a growing divide between the top 1% and the metro area.”
If soccer in Miami fails once again, the city will be stuck with the remaining costs of a stadium no longer in use. The land on which the stadium is built, land that could have potentially been used to build a variety of other businesses, will be lost. Stadiums are often approved on the basis that it will bring opportunities to the local area in the form of construction prospects, increased jobs for local residents once the stadium is built, and potential partnerships with local businesses and the sports organization. As Simon Kuper, author of the award-winning book Soccernomics, explains, building a stadium can often have the reverse effect on the community. Sports organizations offer short-term work and low skilled jobs to the local community while hiring the best talent from other parts of the nation to fill the higher skilled and higher paid positions in the organization. The state funding that a soccer franchise in Miami would receive could take funding away from the struggling residents of the city for several years to come. Public support for stadiums often causes the citizens to turn a blind eye to some of the core problems such as crime, low quality education, and high property taxes.
If Beckham believes he will get unanimous local support for the franchise in the coming months, he need not look any further than MLS’s newest franchise, Orlando City SC. Last October, Orlando City SC received approval and funding for their soccer specific stadium. Some residents of Parramore, the site where Orlando City SC intends to build the stadium, spoke out against the stadium proposal but were obviously unsuccessful in swaying the powers that be. Residents cited issues such as the gentrification and displacement of African-American residents to build the stadium, the promise of jobs which will only be low paying and temporary, and new homes in the region, traffic, and noise.
Despite such protests, the stadium in Miami will most likely be built. The Beckham Effect will no doubt grip the city of Miami and bring success to MLS and the wealthier residents in the region if Beckham’s dream becomes a reality. Most dreams are short-term, and we awake from them none the worse for having experienced them. But for some Miami residents, the reality of the Beckham Effect may just be a nightmare from which they cannot drowsily turn away from and go back to sleep.