Don Garber Misreads the Beckham Experiment

David Beckham comes to Kansas City - KC Wizards Game (18)

Photo by Ramsey Moshen

With David Beckham in the final year of his ground-breaking MLS contract, speculation has turned to whether the 36 year-old midfielder will resign with the LA Galaxy and the league, or continue his quest for another international cap elsewhere.  In an interview with the press, Garber talked about the MLS All Star’s impact on the league, and as expected painted it as a perfect partnership.  His comments, however, reveal a disconnect between the league office and the casual fan.

To do justice to his comments, I want to take each statement individually as reported by The Sun and enter my own comments.  Agree or disagree? Sound off below.

“David has been a game-changer for us, on and off the field.”

He’s right in regards to how the league is perceived off the field.  The Beckham acquisition brought attention to MLS from the international and domestic press, as well as Hollywood and the New York ad agencies.  He became the face of the league to some Americans who are casual-to-non-soccer fans, and in the first year that impact led to higher ticket sales.  On the field, however, his impact to this point has been much less.  After years of constant injuries and loan deals, he is finally this year showing how well he can play.  Case in point – he is among the league leaders in assists.  But to say one year (and no MLS Cups) of quality play justifies his salary is absurd.

“We love him. It has almost been five years and now is very established in our country. He has become this larger than life figure and he happens to play in our country for one of our great teams.”

Don Garber loves him, the MLS owners love him, but who else really loves the MLS version of David Beckham? Based on the constant loan deals and yearning to return to England, not David Beckham.  Fans will come to see him play and buy his jerseys, but ask opposing fans and see how much they care for Beckham.  And I would take issue that he is established in this country when, for the first three years, he was injured or playing on loan in Europe.  The dream of Beckham appearing constantly in endorsements and on TV has failed.  The promised reality TV shows never materialized.  He may still be a name guy in Los Angeles and New York, but if you mention him outside of the coasts he is not really known.  I am sure most people can say he plays soccer, but can they talk about him beyond that?  And if the league wanted to just make him a name in these two markets, it is incredibly short-sighted.

“There is no question that it was a good financial deal for David and the league but you don’t hear about the money anymore.”

The Sun article begins by mentioning the £128m Beckham has supposedly made during his time in the States.  Sports articles on Beckham have down to the game how much money he makes, even now.  The money still matters, especially since the league’s best paid player still hasn’t won an MLS Cup.

“He really cares about the league. He wants to build the sport and he wants to give back to the community.”

The Beckhams are very charitable and do a lot of good community work, so I won’t disagree with that.  But it is hard to take it seriously that he cares about the league when just this offseason there were rumors of a move to Tottenham (as reported on this site).  This wouldn’t be a big deal except for (a) the previous season-long loan moves and (b) the fact he flees to England as often as possible.

“There is something for David in trying to be the person, like Pele was decades ago, who can be a real pioneer for our sport.”

What was Pele’s impact on American soccer?  He certainly was a mythical figure who, while he didn’t save a league, established that Americans love star power even in soccer and the sport can sell out large venues.  His impact on the game itself in America is debatable, but he did add to the mythos of soccer in America.  What will Beckham’s impact be?  I doubt that years from now it will be revered as Pele; in fact it may be more negative due to the money spent and the lack of playing time for most of the contract.

“I am not sure what his future is or what his plans are but it would be great to have him in MLS for years to come.”

And that is the big offseason question – will he or won’t he? And should it matter?

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