COMMENTARY | Those running Major League Soccer should take note of one thing as the league looks to expand further beyond New York City Football Club: David Beckham is still the single biggest draw and most recognized face in all of world football.
A Beckham appearance at Tongji University in Shanghai resulted in a stampede as crowds of adoring fans attempted to grab a picture of or an autograph from the former England international who announced the end of his playing days last month. A video that was uploaded onto the Telegraph website showed Beckham, who appeared to remain cool and calm throughout the ordeal, being swarmed by those looking to get close to the international superstar. The same video showed multiple individuals on the ground and apparently hurt, and the website's story, taking information from The Shanghai Daily, stated that at least five people had been taken to an area hospital. That number has since gone up to seven.
Beckham, who serves as a football ambassador for China, was on his way to what was scheduled to be a lighthearted training session with some university players. The stampede, which could have been much worse from looking at the videos, forced the two-time MLS Cup winner to cancel that event. "Sorry I couldn't get out on the pitch to see the teams. It was impossible to get through the massive crowds," Beckham stated in an apology.
Today's events marked the second time this week that Beckham's name was mentioned in international sports news for reasons that had nothing to do with on-the-pitch play. It was reported that at least one NFL scout had contacted the retired footballer to see if Beckham would want to try out for a placekicker role with a team. Beckham, according to the stories, "politely said that it wasn't right for him."
I don't think he needs the cash.
So what does all of this have to do with MLS and a future club entering the league? Plenty. Beckham's MLS contract contained in it a stipulation that would allow him to own a team once he had retired; so long as that team is not located in the New York market. He visited Miami earlier this month, reportedly scouting for a future location for what is now jokingly referred to by some as "Beckham FC."
The southeast is the only region in the US that is currently not represented by a single MLS team. Miami, Atlanta and Orlando City are three potential cities for either a new franchise or one that would be relocated sometime down the road (looking at you, Chivas USA). USL Pro side Orlando City Soccer Club picked up a new investor this past February, and the team dropped a bombshell this week when they announced that Real Madrid midfielder Kaká would be their first designated player if they were to join MLS in 2015, the same year that NYCFC will play their first league matches.
A Beckham-owned MLS franchise would undeniably be a circus in several ways. There's no such thing as bad press, teaches the old adage, and MLS certainly isn't getting daily mentions on national TV sports programming. Beckham merely attaching his name to a club would bring international recognition to that team and to the top-flight US league.
Does anybody really believe that's anything but a plus for Major League Soccer?
Zac has been covering Tottenham Hotspur, Major League Soccer, New York Red Bulls, the USMNT and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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- David Beckham
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