The Business of Becks

On Saturday David Beckham will take the field for the last time as a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy.  After six years, the final chapter in the (with a nod to Grant Wahl) Beckham experiment in Majort League Soccer is finally coming to a close.  From a business standpoint, it’s hard to argue that Beckham’s tenure in the United States was anything other than an unqualified success.  Despite the initial puffery involved with claims of $250 million contracts, early struggles on the field and missteps by Beckham himself, the league has seen a period of great growth over the last six years.

The reports of 300,000 Beckham jersey sales in the first year were not fabrications.  The new television deal for the league with NBC (not to mention the $55 million deal for local broadcasts of Galaxy games), the proliferation of soccer specific stadiums, the increase in jersey sponsors (the first Herbalife  jersey deal  just became a 10 year $44 million extension) and the ever increasing expansion fees cannot be disconnected from Beckham’s bold decision to ply his trade in the States.  Perhaps most notable is the remarkable increase in league attendance.  The year before Beckham joined the league, MLS averaged approximately 15,500 fans per game in attendance.  In 2012, the league managed a remarkable 18,800 per game at the gate.

Throughout his time in MLS, Beckham was a willing participant in media outreach, publicity campaigns and league showcases.  Despite some questioning of his commitment at times, Beckham was a great ambassador for the league and never wavered in his efforts to promote MLS and soccer in America.   Six years later, the soccer imprint on the American sports landscape is bigger, broader and more impressive. While not entitled to all of the credit, the signing of David Beckham was a significant factor in strengthening and sustaining the future of professional soccer in the United States.

4 Responses

  1. Regarding attendance, the league had about a 1,200 per game increase after Beckman joined the league, with modest increases after. Similarly, after Thierry Henry joined, there was another 1,200 per game increase across the league. So I guess MLS can begin to value the monetary impact of an internationally recognizable star on ticket sales.

    If Kaka ever comes over, should we expect another 1200 person per game bump?

  2. Well if Kaka goes to NJRB it would most certainly mean sellouts at RBA with that huge Brazilian population in that NJ area.

  3. Though I’ve found proper MLS religion more recently than I’d like to admit, I am a defender of the league in general so I’m pretty pleased that the overall narrative of Beckham’s tenure is positive. Both the league and Beckham are easy targets sometimes, and the initial focus on his “selfishness” announcing his departure prior to Cup was worrying. Fortunately, the general conversation has focused on how the league has grown since his arrival, and having a week plus to focus on that I think helped enlighten some people. While I always bristle at the suggestion the league needs to be more “relevant” within the broader landscape — a vocal, dedicated following among soccer fans is no small thing — the soccer-only crowd does itself a disservice when it tries to pretend everybody else doesn’t matter. The league is clearly playing the long game, and they’ve earned my respect by doing it very, very well.

    On the pre / post comparison stats, the most impressive from a business standpoint — at least in my view — are the player salaries (1) and the stadia (2), because it reflects the investment in terms of real money people are putting in the league. The attendance figure is certainly enhanced by putting teams in established soccer markets, and the 40k in Seattle certainly helps the arithmetic, but for me the single most telling comment in the reflections on Beckham’s tenure is that the Seattle owners chose to invest in MLS as a result of Beckham’s coming here.

  4. JR is right. Others do matter. But I don’t think that you will ever convince fans of other sports to be soccer fans once they are adults. Becks drew some interest but the tv rating suggest not much. I don’t know how the league gets the tv number up despite the great gate numbers.

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