By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
AND THAT’S HOW THAT DEAL is now regarded. Within a year, Kenyon had moved to another British team, Chelsea, and, in a fit of seller’s remorse, tried to reacquire Beckham. As Carlin recounts it in his book, Sánchez assured Beckham he would rather sell Real Madrid’s entire stadium than sell him.
At first, the profit power of Beckham seemed questionable to Phil Anschutz, the Denver billionaire who will now bear most of the risk of acquiring the soccer star. The new management team that took over at Real Madrid a few months ago no longer appeared to value Beckham as highly, and he was entering the twilight of his playing career, having been removed as captain of England’s national team and from the national squad.
“Anschutz was hesitant initially,” Bliss, who knows all the inside players, told the Weekly. “But he became enthusiastic after understanding the impact across all his properties.” Those properties include not only a big investment in Major League Soccer, but also Staples Center, Home Depot Center (Galaxy’s home in Carson), movie production (Walden Media), movie distribution (Regal Entertainment) and music-event booking.
Considering that Beckham’s manager, Simon Fuller, is the marketing guru behind Britain’s Pop Idol— forerunner to American Idol— anything seems possible. And if Hollywood is interested, Beckham already has the connections via his big bud, Tom Cruise. Beckham’s wife, Victoria, formerly known as Posh Spice, has been looking to revive her singing career and has just launched her own denim-clothing label, called DVB Style. She seems to be developing a career as an author following the publication of a 500-page autobiography, Learning to Fly, in 2001, and a second book last October, a fashion guide called That Extra Half an Inch: Hair, Heels and Everything in Between.
THE EXACT STRUCTURE of Beckham’s deal is unknown — Anschutz’s people are keeping completely quiet about it. Nor is it known whether the $250 million figure reported globally and by Los Angeles media — which hasn’t been contradicted since it first surfaced in the British press — is accurate. But experts say the best guess is that his salary accounts for no more than 20 percent of the total, and the rest will come from sponsorship and profit-participation deals (something along the lines of a 40 percent to 50 percent royalty on every jersey sold, a cut of the ticket sales and other income).
Tim Leiweke, chief executive of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, would say only that it is an “all-encompassing contract” including endorsements and royalties as well as salary. “It’s the most progressive contract in the history of sports,” Leiweke bragged — one that Leiweke is quietly sharing with other Major League Soccer teams in the belief that they’ll get motivated to go out and buy their own global megastars.
Insists Leiweke, “We will make money on this deal. David will make more money with us than he has made with Real Madrid. That is the unbelievable impact of David Beckham . . . We’re blazing new territory here.”
Could Leiweke and others crowing about this deal somehow be horribly wrong? There is certainly precedent to suggest it could blow up in their faces.
In the late 1970s, the precursor to MLS, the North American Soccer League, went on a spending spree of acquiring major international soccer stars, starting with the Brazilian legend Pelé, in a bid to expand the world’s favorite sport across the only remaining bastion of resistance, the U.S. Many of the biggest names were acquired by the New York Cosmos, under the ownership of Warner Communications, which became the soccer equivalent of the New York Yankees.
For a couple of years, the Cosmos crushed every other team in sight simply because it had a lot more money to throw around. The experiment failed. The league expanded way too fast, attendance plummeted nationwide, Warner sold its soccer interests (leading to a fire sale of the Cosmos’ celebrity players), and by 1984 the league was defunct.
Most media coverage of the Beckham deal has skipped over this sorry episode, portraying the acquisitions of a generation ago as the big boost that put soccer on the map in the United States, not the overhasty act that actually killed professional soccer in this country for 12 years. The executives behind the Beckham deal haven’t forgotten, however, and have taken care to learn from the North American Soccer League’s mistakes.
“Back then they all got stupid, and got stupid on lots of guys,” Leiweke says. Several things are different now. The league operates as a single entity, with Anschutz and others acting as investors in all the teams, not just their own. So the balance of talent is not expected to tip so far in favor of one or two teams that they’ll be able to pummel the others. The league also imposes strict limits on star players — just one or two per team — and limits its own liability to a $400,000 salary cap per player.
It is Anschutz Entertainment Group, not the Los Angeles Galaxy itself, that will foot the lion’s share of the Beckham bill. “There’s very little risk here,” Leiweke says. “The Major League has an agreement on what they can spend on players. Even if other owners want to go out of control, they can’t.” And if Beckham somehow turns into an unmitigated disaster, it will be Anschutz, not the league, who will take the hit.