Every single penny spent on David Beckham's American adventure proved worthwhile.
And how could it not? From the moment AEG president Tim Leiweke convinced the world's most recognizable soccer player to swap Madrid for Los Angeles, the move looked certain to pay off for the Galaxy and for a league desperately in need of star power.
It took the better part of Beckham's initial five-year deal for the Galaxy to come good on the field, but the club enjoyed immediate and rampant success off of it. One stroke of the pen launched the club to global prominence. One player paved the way for bumper local TV deals (especially a lucrative pact struck last year with a little help from the fractured regional network scene in southern California, admittedly) and lucrative postseason tours to far flung destinations. One star placed the Galaxy – and MLS, by extension – into the American consciousness, ramped up ancillary revenue to unprecedented levels and sparked the arrival of Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane and other established stars from Europe.
If Beckham had left it there and petered out like some spent force on the field, he still would have created a significant legacy. He didn't rescue MLS. Extensive investment and smart leadership placed the league on the path it follows today. He did, however, attract attention to the fact that MLS more or less figured things out several years ago and warranted a more significant place on the domestic and the international scene.
Although Beckham embraced his off-the-field duties from the moment he agreed to join MLS, it took him a bit more time to warm to his task between the lines. He spent too much time chasing after his England dreams and eschewing the fundamental duties of turning out week after week. His lofty station provided liberties and he took them far too often until the end.
But after he called time on his offseason loan spells and lost all hope of an England recall, Beckham leaned on his competitive fire to finish off his tenure with the Galaxy in some style. He deservedly featured in the Best XI last season as his side claimed the Supporters' Shield and won his first MLS Cup on home soil. He contributed once again this year with a prominent role in the Galaxy's title defense.
While the belated on-field response did not atone for the issues early in his Galaxy tenure, it did rather neatly round off his substantial contribution to the club. No one could say he existed solely as a marketing ploy. Beckham delivered success for his club as he did in Manchester and Madrid. He supplemented those trophies with a marketing machine no player in world football could match. His commitment – justifiably questioned at times during his spell – ends with all parties looking better for it.
Now the onus falls on Beckham to cap his Galaxy career with a second straight title on Dec. 1 and maintain his commitment to MLS as he transitions into the next phase of his career. He agreed to move to America in 2007 to help build the league. He did what he could over the past six years to further that cause, but he also knew that the project required more than that period of time to take hold. Despite appearances to the contrary, his association with the league does not end with his contract.
Beckham planned for his inevitable Galaxy exit by laying the groundwork for his future association with MLS. Even as he departs for some new destination this winter (and let the speculation commence, much to Brand Beckham's delight), Beckham holds the option to purchase a club at a favorable rate in the future. He is too savvy of a businessman to pass on that sort of growth opportunity.
When Beckham exercises that option some time down the line, he creates a new relationship between himself and the league. And MLS needs that bond to continue. Work still remains to transform MLS from an attendance marvel into a consistently meaningful presence on the North American sports scene. Beckham's profile can only help the league advance toward that elusive goal as its development continues.
If Beckham's second act yields half of the success of his spell as a player, then MLS will once again find itself in debt to its most prominent figure. Fortunately for the league, it remains money well spent.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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