Landon Hemsley (SMBA ’15) looks at David Beckham’s attempt to own an expansion soccer franchise in MLS in this 5 part series. This section is Part 4. Be sure to continue to read through all five parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 5.
Major League Soccer hasn’t announced a franchise in Miami for only one really well known reason: David Beckham hasn’t been able to arrange for a downtown stadium. He’s got the ownership group in place with the backing of billionaire Marcelo Claure. He’s got the international iconic status that could make Miami one of the most popular franchises in America. He’s got plenty of friends in high places that want to see his franchise in Miami become reality.
The trouble is that none of those friends of his happen to run the city of Miami or Miami-Dade County. Beckham’s problems convincing the city and county to help find suitable ground and finance a new stadium for his new club are very well documented. Those reasons are probably the only reason why MLS hasn’t officially announced that a franchise is on its way to Miami.
Few modern professional sports owners actually build and own their own stadiums; most are at least partially financed using public money. In fact, sports owners have used this fact as a bargaining chip in negotiations with governments. The line is this: “If you don’t build me a stadium, I’ll take my team and go somewhere with a government that will.”
So, if Beckham were to pick up his ball and take it to another town, where would he go? Let’s take a look.
Potential for financing and construction of a Soccer-Specific Stadium
MLS has made it very clear that there will be no soccer franchise officially awarded until plans for a soccer-specific stadium are set in stone and approved by the MLS Board of Governors. Thus, the ability to obtain public support for a stadium and the money to fund it, either through private investment from the club’s ownership group ownership or through public investment, is crucial to the success of an MLS expansion bid. Arthur Blank of Atlanta pursued an MLS expansion franchise for eight years. He received public approval for his stadium, and only after that was his MLS expansion bid approved. If there’s no stadium plan, there’s no MLS team.
The table below summarizes the present state of potential stadium plans in the markets discussed in Part 3 of this series. If Beckham is forced to move away from Miami, there are some remarkably appealing options elsewhere. The San Antonio Scorpions, a minor-league soccer team, have a stadium that is built for expansion to 18,500 seats. The stadium, named Toyota Park, is already in use. The most a new ownership group would have to do is purchase the franchise fee – a fee Beckham gets at a hefty discount – and begin making plans to renovate the stadium, renovations which could easily be completed by 2020.
|1||San Antonio||Stadium ready||Private||Barbour|
|2||Sacramento||Stadium Approved||Private||Lillis and Kasler|
|3||Austin||Plans proposed||Joint Venture||King|
|4||Minneapolis||Plans solicited||Joint Venture||Vornhof, Jr.|
|5||Las Vegas||Facing resistance||Joint Venture||Snel, Lovett|
|6||Miami||Facing sharp resistance||Private||Hanks|
The next best option is in Sacramento. Sacramento Republic FC announced in September that the club has purchased land near the rail yard in downtown Sacramento that it will use to purchase a new 20,000 seat stadium, all to be privately financed. Kevin Johnson, Sacramento’s mayor, has said that no public money will be used to finance the stadium, which means that lead investor into Sacremento Republic FC’s MLS expansion bid Kevin Nagle and his group will have to finance the project on their own, which they say they are willing to do. If Beckham could persuade Nagle’s group to bring him on board, Beckham’s stadium woes will immediately be behind him.
Austin also appears to be an appealing option, and may be one Beckham is actually heading. Beckham was reportedly to be involved with a public-private stadium development announcement in the Texas capital before it was leaked through the press. The City of Austin passed an official resolution in March to show public support for bringing an MLS franchise to the city, and the city appears to be willing to foot much of the bill. If potential co-investor Rene van de Zande can contribute significantly to the private portion of this stadium project, Austin quickly begins to look like an appealing destination.
Minneapolis is another compelling market. Billionaire Bill McGuire, owner of Minnesota United FC, has been exploring stadium options. He toured Sporting Park in Kansas City for MLS Cup 2013 with members of the Minneapolis sporting community. Also, a local community development group was apparently seeking a developer to build a stadium in a downtown location in Minneapolis earlier this year. Nothing has been officially proposed, but it appears that there may be some public support to help build a stadium for an MLS expansion franchise; the state seemed happy enough to go along with Zygi and Mark Wilf to fund a $1 billion stadium for the Minnesota Vikings.
Sin City appears to be a crap shoot at the moment. The bid for an MLS franchise in Las Vegas hinges on stadium funding from the public, and public funding for the stadium in Las Vegas hinges on a key City Council vote in December. On the one hand, Las Vegas’s Mayor is squarely behind the bid to bring the town a professional team. On the other, the general public is against using public money to finance a professional sports venue, and the City Council is split on the issue. Furthermore, the Council Member who could be the swing vote has said she’ll likely vote it down because her constituents don’t want the stadium. If Beckham is ready to don his political cap and run another campaign to gain support from local government, the desert is the place for him. Otherwise, he should stay far, far away.
The stadium site selection process in Miami has fallen apart. There is little public support. An article in a January edition of Newsweek Magazine was very clear; after the financial disaster that is the Miami Marlins’ new ballpark, resistance should be expected for some time. Perhaps it’s for this reason that Beckham has said the new stadium will be privately financed in its entirety, despite the fact that he at one point was seeking state subsidies. If Beckham’s decision is to be made solely on the basis of his ability to arrange for a stadium to be constructed where and how he wants, he should leave Miami.
Be sure to continue reading through all five parts: Part 5.