An emotional David Beckham said Miami had made his “dream had come true” after finally becoming a Major League Soccer team owner. The Miami MLS team plans to enter the US top-flight as its 25th team in two years.
The new club, which is yet to be named, was rubber-stamped by MLS 1,454 days after the former England captain arrived in Miami pledging to bring a professional team to the city. Now, with most of the hurdles cleared, MLS commissioner Don Garber has awarded Miami a franchise that will bring professional football back to the city for the first time since 2001.
Yet there are still questions. Fans will be heavily involved in selecting the colours and name for the team, which targets 2020 as its first season. It will likely play in temporary home until a new 25,000-seat stadium in Overtown completed.
During a press conference short on real detail, Beckham told a packed crowd of raucous fans and dignitaries at the Adrienne Arsht Center: “When I was awarded the team there was only one city for me. And it was here. I was drawn to city for the same reason millions are, the diversity, the culture, the weather, the beaches and the people.
“I had calls from top players, I’m not going to say who, saying ‘I’m in’. Of course we want to bring the top players in from Europe, but the thing we’re most interested in is top homegrown talent.
“We’ll build a state of the art academy. That’s how you build a community. When you see talented young players go on and represent their country, that’s when we’ll sit back and say ‘job done.’ That’s when we’re going to be proud of it.”
The MLS commissioner, Don Garber, hailed an “historic day in our league and in the history of Miami sports.”
The announcement comes after years of failed stadium initiatives, local political maneuvering and a search for additional investment. A major breakthrough came last June, when the investment group secured the final three-acre plot of land necessary to build the new arena in the city’s Overtown district, describing it last year as “the last chance to get a stadium or soccer team.”
However, the project remained in serious doubt, until local construction magnates the Mas brothers, Jorge and José joined the group in December. “No longer will you drive to a game and drive home. We’ll have drums, chants, pre-game, post game. We’re going to rock it,” Jorge Mas added.
The group has long envisioned a European style “walk to the match” in the historically African American neighbourhood, where there’s still ardent objection and an ongoing legal appeal. It’s a couple of miles away from the initially-proposed waterfront location next door to the NBA’s Miami Heat, but a world away in terms of the glamour originally sought by Beckham in 2014.
The investment group is also providing “every penny” to build the new arena after the city, stung by the construction of the Marlins Park baseball arena at astronomical estimated public cost of $2.4bn over 40 years, closed off the purse strings to new stadium projects. That financial burden was lessened by Beckham’s right to purchase an MLS expansion franchise for just $25m. Part of the contract that of the brought him to the LA Galaxy in 2007, it’s a very agreeable deal. Nashville will have to pay a reported $150m expansion fee to become the league’s 24th team.
Beckham is bringing plenty of financial clout to the project. Marcelo Claure is the CEO of US mobile network Sprint, while SoftBank founder and CEO Masayoshi Son joins the Mas brothers. British entertainment mogul Simon Fuller is also on board.
The appetite for the football in the city is currently at its highest since the Miami Fusion folded back in 2001. Recently, while Beckham’s group wrangled with politicians, second-tier Miami FC, co-owned by Italian legend Paulo Maldini, has come to the fore. The team made it to the quarter-finals of the US Open Cup last season drawing crowds upwards of 10,000 during the run.
Eric Braz, founding member of the Miami MLS Southern Legion Supporters Group, until Monday the game’s loyalest fans without a team, said: “My life is complete again. This is going to bring the community together around soccer. We set this group up in a bar 10 years ago. There were times we thought this wasn’t going to happen, but today we finally get to celebrate.”