On Thursday, January 12, Major League Soccer created a buzz alien to the sport of pro soccer in the US when the LA Galaxy signed British soccer superstar David Beckham to a five-year deal that could earn him up to $250 million, including endorsements.
Beckham's contract with Spanish club Real Madrid expires on June 30, and he will be joining the Galaxy thereafter.
"[This] will generate positive visibility for both [Beckham] and MLS," says Rick Liebling, global client management director at Alan Taylor Communications. "Sports talk radio talked about MLS for the first time in quite awhile. People waiting for trains and at newsstands are talking about Beckham. That sort of thing is what MLS was looking for and needed."
The league is betting that Beckham, arguably the most famous soccer player in the world, will attract not only soccer and uninitiated fans to the games, but also famous friends like Tom Cruise.
Why does it matter?
Soccer is the world's biggest sport, but US pro leagues have always struggled. While the MLS has concluded its 11th season, it hasn't attracted the following of more entrenched US sports like baseball and football. But when the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League attracted Brazilian player Pele in the 1970s, attendance soared for all the club's games.
"From a PR standpoint, there's the initial excitement of signings. The critical issue is maintaining that excitement," notes Liebling, who adds that Beckham's celebrity status affords the league more varied opportunities.
"[Beckham will] certainly be in the gossip pages or on programs like Entertainment Tonight," he adds. "It will be interesting to see how MLS will capitalize on his off-field activities."
1. Just hours after the news of Beckham's contract with the Galaxy, the club's season-ticket requests jumped by more than 1,000, while several other MLS teams have also seen spikes in season-ticket sales, according to Sports Illustrated.
2. Last year's Super Bowl drew 91 million viewers. However, around the globe, the World Cup final dominates the sports world in viewership, with an estimated audience of anywhere from 300 million to more than 1 billion.
3. A newly installed designated-player rule will allow each MLS team to pay an unlimited salary to one player. The league hopes this will attract other top foreign talent.
4. While many professional athletes brought home huge sums of money in 2006, the only one to earn more than $50 million last year was golfer Tiger Woods.
5. According to a recent SportsIllustrated.com poll filled out by 43,000 voters, 30% of them said Beckham's arrival in MLS will affect their interest in the league, whereas 70% agreed that they couldn't care less.