As it awaits formal approval to join MLS, Miami Beckham United is hoping to resonate with local fans in a city with a mixed history of professional soccer.
After an extended period of uncertainty, significant progress has been made in recent months on the efforts of a group led by David Beckham to bring an MLS expansion franchise to Miami. The group has obtained additional investors and reached an agreement with Miami-Dade County to acquire acreage for its preferred stadium site in Overtown, effectively cutting the number of obstacles it faces to join the league.
One of the remaining tasks for Miami Beckham United is formal approval from MLS officials. As was noted in our most recent MLS expansion odds, it is looking increasingly likely that Beckham’s bid will succeed, making Miami the league’s 24th club. If it does come to fruition, it will not be the first time that MLS has taken a chance on the Miami area–the Miami Fusion played at Fort Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium from 1998-2001 before ceasing operations.
The Fusion is a part of Miami’s mixed history of backing local professional clubs, but MLS is hopeful that Beckham’s franchise can succeed. MLS commissioner Don Garber sees one distinct advantage for Beckham’s plan that could allow it to thrive, noting that the stadium’s location in Overtown aligns with the league’s vision for Miami. More from The New York Times:
“Miami is no longer just a beach town,” Garber said. “We would not have gotten into Miami if we could not be in the urban core. We want to be part of something bigger than we are, urban development.”
After failed attempts to acquire land for a stadium at three other locations, Beckham’s current plan has cleared nearly every financial, political and legal hurdle. Still, there is no guarantee that the group — which now includes Todd Boehly, a part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers; Marcelo Claure, the chief executive of Sprint; the media entrepreneur Simon Fuller; and Tim Leiweke, a veteran M.L.S. executive well versed in stadium projects — can succeed where others have not.
Despite a large Latino population with links to Caribbean, Central American and South American countries where soccer is king, South Florida has had a checkered history with pro soccer, in part because the tug of international teams is so strong. Over the weekend, more than 60,000 fans paid dearly for tickets to see F.C. Barcelona play Real Madrid in an exhibition match in the Miami Dolphins’ stadium.
The enthusiasm for the local product has been far more muted. The Fusion, the M.L.S. team that played in nearby Fort Lauderdale, was shut down by Garber in 2001 after only four seasons. In 2009, an expansion bid by Claure and F.C. Barcelona fell apart. The city’s top club, two-year-old Miami F.C. of the North American Soccer League, has had immediate success on the field but plays in a college stadium and draws about 6,200 fans a game.
A site in, or near, downtown Miami had been targeted as part of this pursuit. Beckham’s group first unveiled plans for a facility in Overtown in late 2015, and is now trying to follow through on its intention to construct a privately-financed stadium at that site.
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