Thursday, January 11, 2007

What Can David Beckham Do For You?

Just as I had shed my final goodbye tears at the departure of our beloved Deuce, I was soon comforted by the arrival of David Beckham to MLS. Now before I dispense with the undeniable comparisons to MLS 2006 and NASL 1975 that will surely be beat to death in the coming weks by different drums, I fully disclose this: I have currently own four Beckham jerseys, all sitting pretty in my closet as you read this. So if you expect a critical essay on the potential negative impact this soccer god's arrival may bring, you've come to the wrong place. Besides, when have you ever known me to be objective?

Understandably, the comparisons from Pele's arrival in 1975 and Beckham's approximately 30 years later is one that will surely be analyzed until Becks ultimately retires or moves on to another club after his 5-year, $250 million contract expires. We all know the story: NASL, a fledgling pro soccer outfit during the 1970s, brings in Pele the King. Pele brings unprecedented attention to soccer in the States. NASL thrives off Pele's popularity (although no franchise ever pulled in a profit, not even the his New York Cosmos). Pele leaves, other stars arrive, fans leave, empty stadiums follow, boom, RIP NASL 1968-1984. She will be missed. MLS learned much from reading NASL's obituary before undertaking the potential slippery slope that is the Designated Player Rule.

Much to its credit, MLS no doubt carefully calculated the introduction of this very rule (which is colloquially known as the 'David Beckham Rule') to perfectly coincide with the megastar's Real Madrid contract set to expire in less than a year. Timing is everything, you see. After all, how else do you introduce what is essentially a watershed rule if the prime target isn't immediately available? The MLS knew full well what it was doing when it ingeniuously dangled its supremely tasty bait to catch their 50 pound salmon. It's almost like watching a police press conference announcing a handsome reward for a fugitive, and minutes later, a local hero brings in the bad guy tied up and accounted for. "Here's the 'David Beckham Rule'...and on my left, here's David Beckham himself!"

Immediately, the one benefit of owning a worldwide media magnet like Becks brings is instant publicity. When was the last time you saw MLS being discussed simultaneuously on CNN, MSNBC, ESPN, FSN, and every other acronymed cable network? Alot people didn't even know what the LA Galaxy was before today's announcement. And now? Those same people are talking about MLS! How awesome is that? MLS is now fodder for watercooler talk tomorrow at workplaces across the country, sparked up by lollygaggers and slackers who just know that Becks is gonna make $250 million playing soccer here in the States! It's almost as if AEG plotted paying him the exhorbitant amount of dough knowing that "Hey let's make this announcement even more ludicrous by throwing an obscene nine figures into the deal? Now everyone will talk!" (Note: I used the following adjectives in a positive light) Well giddy-up, because the bucking bronco of Becks courtship with MLS just drank twenty gallons of Jolt in a single gulp.

The agreement itself, in terms of athletes' contracts, now resides in its own stratosphere. Michael Jordan, at his peak, signed yearly, $35 million dollar deals with the Bulls from 1996-1998. Becks stands to make that much in just over half a season. And while MJ had previously starred in Space Jam, Becks had an actual move named after him when Bend it Like Beckham was released in theaters in 2003. It could be argued that MJ may be the most recognizeable athlete in the States; it could also be argued that Becks is the most recognizable athlete in the world. It's one thing to get David Beckham; it's another thing to give him a quarter billion dollars and have everyone from temps to bosses to the Roast Beef Guy to the Hot Chick at the Gym (all of whom I've talked to regarding the news) about the cash spent on just one athlete. It wasn't just weird. It was Twilight Zone-Back to the Future-Sliders weird.

As a soccer fan in general, you have to like this. Now everyone who made fun of you for liking soccer and laughed when you called it "football" suddenly wants your at-length opinion about David Beckham and MLS. Today, for the first time ever, I wasn't the only one talking about reading and talking about soccer at work. Hell, the bloke's name came up during the course of our damn team meeting! It even prompted The Hot Chick at the Gym to finally talk to me! (Thank you Becks!) People who couldn't give a crap about soccer suddenly want to know all about it, and I bet those very same people will spend some cash to appease their curiousity. So in light of this promising development, I give AEG, MLS, and Becks himself the wink and smile of approval.

Of course, much remains to be seen regarding the ultimate impact this signing entrenches upon the league in the long run. The Arrival surely opens the olfactory nerves of soccer stars abroad sniffing for cold hard cash in the States. Who these players are at the moment remains to be seen. Nevertheless, you can be rest assured that the general public has now gotten a taste- a tease if you will- of American professional soccer through today's news, and their accompanying the curiousity factor will surely bring many of them to the gates this year.

Now that you've had to endure my incessant ramblings, here's my conclusion. It goes without saying (which is why I'll say it) that this is a new day in MLS. This is the "uh oh, the Delorean's flux capacitor is permanently damaged" kind of deal. There's just no going back after a deal of this magnitude is reached. To quote the late Steve Ross, the Warner Brothers chairman who spearheaded Pele's arrival in the States thirty two years ago: "If you're not a risk-taker, you should get the hell out of business."

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