Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Spend It Like Beckham

With all the recent publicity given to the grotesque CEO compensation packages that have been rung up recently on Wall Street and in the wonderful world of hardware, the LA Galaxy signing David Beckham to a $250,000,000 contract should not have come as much of a shock.  There is, afterall, a Major League Soccer rule that lets teams make an exception or two to the $250K salary limit. And if you divide the $250,000,000 out over the five years of the contract, it's really only $50,000,000 per annum.  And if you take out the parts that aren't salary per se - the $50,000,000 tied to profits, and the $50,000,000 for shirt sales, and the $100,000,000 for sponsorship - the salary component is a measly $10,000,000 per year.  What's a mere order of magnitude or two difference in salary among team-mates.  So what if the guy sitting in front of the next locker is getting paid forty times more than I am?

OK that's nothing we haven't seen before in sports.

Why, even a middlin' kind of baseball star like Johnny Damon got more than that to change his stripes - or, rather, change into his stripes - and move to NY.

But that's baseball, and this is America, where at the professional level not that many people actually care about soccer.

And, truly, this running out and hiring a slightly older world-wide soccer super star to come to the States and see if he can change the course of American sports fandom so that it's wide enough to include soccer - well, that's nothing we haven't seen before either.

Didn't they try this a long time ago with an aging Pélé?

It will be interesting to see if the Beckham deal turns out to be worth it in terms of bringing soccer into the professional sports fold here. Interest in last year's World Cup was a good start, since it exposed a lot more Americans to the sport as something played by real professionals as opposed to 6 year-olds on Saturdays in the fall. And there is modestly growing interest in the MLS teams: I see a lot more coverage of The Revolution (the local New England team) than I used to. And my brother-in-law and niece are sure rabid fans.

But there are a couple of things that keep me from believing that having David Beckham do a star turn in America is going to completely change the fortunes and future of MLS.

For one, in most of the cases I can think of where a sport-in-trouble has been revitalized, it's been by a rivalry, not a superstar.  (And note the use of the word revitalized. Soccer has never been vitalized here to begin with.) In basketball, interest in the NBA was revived by the great Magic-Bird rivalry in the 1980's.  Post-strike baseball was brought back from the dead not just by Mark McGwire's pursuit of Roger Maris 61 home runs record, but by the fact that throughout most of the season he was running bulked-up neck and neck with the bulked up neck of Sammy Sosa. Who's Beckham going to play off of?

Maybe MLS should try to create "everybody vs. Beckham" rivalries in all of its cities.

Maybe they should see if Zenidine Zidaine, the head-butting MVP of La France's losing World Cup team, is available.

Second, while the high-priced international stars come here - which they've done off and on in the years between Pélé and Beckham - our home grown stars want to head off to play in Europe, where they can make more money, play at a higher level, get treated like rock stars - and even, like Beckham, get to marry rock stars - and play before a rabid, packed house.  Wouldn't it make more sense to spread at least part of the Beckham wealth around the other players? Maybe a local star like Clint Dempsey could stay put with the New England Revolution then.

$250,000,000 is a lot of money to spend on any one player. Sure, Beckham may sell a lot of jerseys and soccer shoes. He may draw a lot of fans into Galaxy games, home and road. He may do wonders for the professional soccer world.

But I can't help wondering whether, 5 years down field, the businessmen who put this deal together won't be kicking  - or heading - themselves.


Wizard Prang said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wizardprang said...

Football (or "soccer" as they insist on calling it over here) will never catch on in the US.

Why not? Simple - most sports here have been designed or redesigned around the almighty commercial break.

With two 45-minute halves, Football/Soccer cannot be covered live... and that, along with the low score numbers, will ensure that the sport languishes in obscurity for the foreseeable future.