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
A DISASTER AT THIS POINT, though, seems unlikely. Whatever mysterious “It” factor Beckham possesses, it has something to do with his grace, lack of pretension and knack for saying the right thing to please an audience. When he was caught having an affair with one of his assistants, Rebecca Loos, in 2004, it took little time for the Spanish fans to forgive him. (And no time at all for Victoria, who had resisted moving to Spain, to pick up herself and the kids and settle in Madrid.)
“He’s a very good ambassadorial character,” Carlin says, even if Beckham is not exactly brilliant. “He may not be very bright, but what he says tends to be very measured. He’s astute at projecting the right kind of image — like saying, shortly after he arrived in Spain, that he liked the ham. Clearly, he understood that Spaniards feel proud of their ham and this was a good way to please them.”
One U.S. soccer insider put it more bluntly: “Unless Becks gets caught with his pants down again, they’ve got a powerful marketing machine for the next five years.”
Victoria is a different matter. Of dubious talent, she has a reputation in Britain for being snotty, superior and tacky. In Spain, she had a low profile, spending a lot of time shopping in Milan or New York. In L.A., she’s been spotted at Marc Jacobs’ emporium in West Hollywood and at trendy celebrity restaurants like Koi and Spago in the company of Katie Holmes and other designer-bag-swinging glam girlfriends.
The Hollywood paparazzi are likely to have a field day. The execs at Galaxy, meanwhile, would probably much rather focus attention on the couple’s children — Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz — who, unlike their parents, now speak perfect Spanish and might be a lure for Latino soccer fans who have so far resisted shelling out for game tickets at the Home Depot Center.
On the field, Beckham is likely to shine against the low standards of U.S. soccer, most of whose players are far from catching up with world-level players. As Carlin puts it, “He will be really good and he will score goals of raging beauty.”
However, as Bliss and others argue, Americans avoid professional soccer games not because they don’t like the game but because they want to see it played better. When Manchester United plays an exhibition game in the U.S., ticket sales skyrocket from the typically anemic 15,000 turnout to closer to 60,000.
For that reason, Beckham is only the beginning of the strategy dreamed up by Anschutz, Leiweke and Major League Soccer, experts say. At Real Madrid, he was one of a clutch of international superstars known collectively as the “galacticos,” who set their club on a continuous cycle of more thrilling play on the field, increased publicity and greater revenues.
The Beckham acquisition might open the door to something similar here. Claudio Reyna, the former U.S. team captain and arguably the best American player in the world, has already agreed to return home next season — to the New York Red Bulls. It might not hurt for some other homegrown players to come back — roughly 50 U.S. players have contracts with foreign clubs.
The key now, league officials say, is to try to attract as many high-profile Latino players as possible, since Latinos, with their footballing culture, are the biggest demographic target for any expansion of the game in the U.S. The league estimates that Latinos account for 35 percent of ticket sales, roughly three times their representation in the overall population.
L.A.’s second club, Chivas USA, tried to get that ball rolling two years ago, boasting that it would establish the first Latino-dominated club north of the border in conjunction with the Mexican Chivas team from Guadalajara. But Chivas’ owners have struggled, with players shuttling back and forth, and the team, as local sportswriters tell it, has not achieved stellar results.