By Ben Holcomb
David Beckham left a champion. This sentence will always be inscribed as the penultimate statement of the super famous soccer star’s MLS career. On Saturday, December 1st, Beckham played his final game for the Los Angeles Galaxy, helping them win their 2nd straight MLS Cup Championship. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and other local celebrities were in attendance to see the historic game. In the 89th minute, Beckham was subbed out of the game and there was a momentary stoppage, as the star received a resounding ovation from the hometown crowd.
It’s been almost six years since David Beckham came to the United States to play in our professional soccer league. His personal accolades did not fan out as some may have predicted, but by the end of his tenure the Galaxy had two more championships than they did before him, and the league was forever changed for the better. And now Beckham says he will be off for one more professional challenge as an athlete, perhaps in Australia; a 37 year-old soccer player on the outside of a prime, looking inwards. He’s always been a polarizing player, more celebrity than athlete at times. He’s married to a Spice Girl, frolics in the Hollywood Hills with A-listers, and hangs court side at Lakers games. His standing on an actual soccer field, however, are not quite up to his celebrity. He rose in popularity for England almost meteorically, stealing headlines for his amazing playing style and signature “bend” kicks. He once put a goal in from mid-field, and soon became known for his epically audacious scores. But he never was the best player in the world. He didn’t have a complete enough game to demand that billing.
This dissonance, of course, has always caused an uproar within soccer diehards, who find his massive fame as somewhat unwarranted and inane, especially when some of the more deserving, stellar players go unnoticed. But when you’re in the public eye, sometimes you are only worth what people will pay for you. Sure, you could argue the Kardashians traded in their souls for fame and fortune, but you can’t necessarily blame them for profiting off of America’s ignorance. Kim Kardashian turned a sex-tape into a near-billion dollar empire. Is that her fault? No, that’s on us. In the same way, Beckham can’t be blamed for profiting off of his looks and popularity; he can’t be blamed for signing major endorsement deals and soccer contracts that may be inflated because of his celebrity. That’s the way the world works. Good for him.
But the more important questions persists – was David Beckham a good investment by the LA Galaxy, and MLS as a whole? Was he worth the hype?
Many will remember David Beckham’s arrival into the MLS as a time surrounded by much hoopla for his “biggest ever sports contract”, upwards of what media outlets reported to be $250M. How could a floundering league possibly put down that kind of money on one player? After all, hardly anyone watched the MLS before Beckham signed that deal in 2007. The truth eventually came out that the $250M number was a speculative one including the “best-case-scenario” outcomes for all incentives and possible endorsement deals that could go down during that five years. He was in L.A. and was now the face of soccer in America, so that had to count for something, right?
Well, maybe, but not when it came to the Galaxy’s checkbooks. They had him officially for $6.5M a year, $32.5M altogether. They almost immediately paid that off with their sponsorship deal with Herbalife, who’s company logo adorns the front of all Galaxy jerseys. That deal was worth a reported $20M, so within a matter of days LA’s MLS team had closed the investment gap on Beckham to a simple -$12.5M. Furthermore, the immediately sold season tickets and luxury suites by the boatload for Beckham’s first season, 11,000 in total. At around 25 games a year, with an average season ticket price of $45.31, that comes out to $12.46M in revenue in just the first year on season ticket holders. The luxury boxes sold out, as well, which each cost at least $25,000. Forty-six of those in total come out to $1.15M. That means, before Beckham even stepped foot on the pitch, the LA Galaxy had profited $1.11M off of his arrival on one sponsorship and season tickets, alone. That was year one, before concessions, before apparel sales, and parking, and television deals went into place.
Five years later, its undeniable that the LA Galaxy pulled off a genius, visionary move back in 2007 to bring over David Beckham and shine a lot on their entire league as a whole. The business side of AEG 1 skyrocketed in correlation with Beckham, too. Their connection with the world famous athlete changed the way they did business, and their operations globalized. It’s obvious that the Galaxy profited, but how did the MLS come out after the whole thing?
Major League Soccer was in a valley in 2007. This valley was a raised one in between two mountains, but it was a valley nonetheless. They’d been around for years, and had reached what seemed like a peak a few years before. The mid 2000’s left the league in a state of unknown. They weren’t really going anywhere, weren’t really catching on. And then Beckham arrived. His arrival gave instant legitimacy to the MLS’ operations, and garnered recognition from foreign leagues worldwide. They were a legitimate professional market. Foreign players started coming over to play in America with more frequency, and the MLS’ brand became more international in scope. More teams joined the fold as the leave expanded in size and popularity. Thierry Henry joined the New York Red Bulls in 2010, which was a major move despite the fact that the MLS was starting to gain a reputation as a place where former European stars went to lie down and die.
Beyond this, the MLS is also expanding their television coverage. They’re featured now on ESPN with a “game of the week”, but in 2012 they just signed an annual deal with the NBC Sports Network to televise 40 matches a year. Money wise, the future is bright for a league that was a glorified money pit in the first decade or so of its creation. Between that time, there were reports that the league as a whole was $350M in the red. The league as a whole hasn’t completely risen from the ashes of financial debt yet, but with each passing year more and more teams emerge as profitable enterprises, and the game as a whole begins to grow. In light of the NFL’s recent struggles with former player’s dying from brain complications and the rise in diagnosed concussions, more and more parents are encouraging their children to pursue careers in soccer instead of the more popular, violent game. This trend may eventually pay off with our best athletes ending up in the MLS and not NFL or NBA. Our performance as a nation at the World Cup always benefits the MLS as well.
Finally, what did Beckham get out of this business decision? Was it worth his time?
David Beckham is, according to celebritynetworth.com, a $175M man. He has endorsement deals with Adidas, Calvin Klein, Vodafone, Pepsi, and Gillette, among others. His wife Victoria is worth $80M on her own, stemming from her career as a Pop Star with the Spice Girls and other fashion dealings. He’s doing just fine. Beyond his annual salary with the LA Galaxy, his decision to move to Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world, did nothing but bolster his super stardom. It’s reported that he even has a unique deal with the MLS to sign on as an expansion team owner in the near future at his own fixed rate, if he so chooses. It seems like this is something that will happen down the line, if his recent interviews are any indication.
David Beckham is gone from Major League Soccer, but the effect he had on the game may never fully be forgotten. He changed the sport, reinvented what professional soccer in America looked like, and absolutely carried the billing he signed on for in 2007 – not only for himself and his team, but for the MLS as an organization.
When asked about his legacy, his head coach had this to say, “Twenty years from now we are going to look at this league and still talk about David Beckham as the one who helped turn us.”
Here’s to the future.
- The principle owners of the LA Galaxy. ↩