(Reuters) - Ten years ago on Wednesday David Beckham rocked the soccer establishment when he turned his back on Real Madrid, the world’s most glamorous soccer club, and signed with Los Angeles Galaxy.
For a decade the tremors of that deal have rumbled through Major League Soccer and Tim Leiweke, the man who orchestrated what is perhaps the most significant signing in sport history, predicts the charismatic former England captain will soon be making shockwaves again -- as an owner.
“David was an impact moment for the league but it wasn’t our birth and it didn’t save us from death, but ... David allowed us to realise how big we could be,” Leiweke, now one of Beckham’s partners in trying to bring an MLS team to Miami, told Reuters.
”We went from surviving to conquering and David gave us that reputation, that belief and from that point on there was no question this league was going to succeed.
“But as big an impact as he had 10 years ago I continue to predict he is going to have as big an impact as an owner.”
Certainly Beckham’s emergence as the potential owner of a Miami-based MLS franchise dogged by setbacks has been muted compared to his rock star arrival in Los Angeles in 2007.
“David Beckham will have a greater impact on soccer in America than any athlete has ever had on a sport globally,” Leiweke, the then-president and CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, the Galaxy’s corporate parent, said at the time of the signing.
Leiweke, who is equal parts visionary and shrewd salesman, also proved to be a prophet.
The five-year deal to lure Beckham to the United States, one estimated at $250 million and including commercial opportunities and the rights to buy an MLS expansion team at a steep discount, was by most barometers worth every dollar.
By the time he played his final game in a Galaxy jersey in 2012 MLS was no longer regarded as soccer’s comfy retirement home and five years on the Beckham affect is still being felt as the league pushes forward with expansion plans.
In Beckham’s first season the average attendance at MLS games was 16,770 and last season it jumped to 21,692. This season will feature 22 MLS teams, up from 13 in 2007.
Toronto FC, which debuted in 2007, paid a $10 million expansion fee. The next round of expansion will be a minimum of $150 million per club while Beckham gets his for $25 million.
While the Miami team has no stadium and no name what it does have is the cache behind the Beckham brand that Leiweke believes once operating will make the South Florida club a magnet for some of the soccer’s marquee names.
”Is there anyone who is going to be better in the living room than David Beckham recruiting the next David Beckham,“ asked Leiweke. ”To me he can affect the league in a lot of ways and we are now about to see him and the impact on the league he is going to have in a business suit instead of a jersey.
“He can be just as dynamic and just as powerful because for the great players of the world we have the world’s greatest recruiter now in David, he’s an owner.”
“The 10 years have been great but I don’t think his work with our league is done by any means or capacity.”
While there may never be another signing that will impact a league the way Beckham did Leiweke says there are players out there that can still move the needle globally pointing to names like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Once operational, Leiweke made it clear the Miami franchise will move quickly to put the club on the global soccer map.
”We have arguably one of the best brand ambassadors in the world with David, we are going to aim extremely high,“ said Leiweke. ”We are going to push aggressively.
”As an owner David is going to continue to revolutionise our sport and our league and I think we are only getting started on our potential to where this league is going to go in the next 10 years.
”We aspire not only to be the best club in Major League Soccer we want to be the best club in the Americas and we think Miami has that culture and that tradition that allows us to think that way.
“What I can promise you is Miami is going to create waves.”
Editing by Frank Pingue