Miami (AFP) – English football superstar David Beckham was officially awarded a Major League Soccer franchise in Miami on Monday, but there was no immediate word on when the long-awaited team will kick off.
“It is with tremendous pride that we welcome Miami to Major League Soccer,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement.
Garber joined Beckham, financial backers and local officials at a news conference in Miami to make the announcement in front of hundreds of cheering fans.
“Our mission to bring an MLS club to Miami is now complete, and we are deeply satisfied, grateful and excited,” said Beckham.
“Our pledge to our fans in Miami and around the world is simple: your team will always strive to make you proud on the pitch, our stadium will be a place that you cherish visiting, and our impact in the community and on South Florida’s youth will run deep.”
The Miami expansion team is widely expected to join the league in 2020 but there was no official word on a start date on Monday.
An MLS statement said information about the team’s debut season, team name, logo and staff would be released in the future.
The Beckham-led consortium has secured land on which to build a privately developed, 25,000-seat state-of-the-art stadium in the heart of the city.
“They say that great things come to those who wait…we thank you for waiting for this day,” Garber told an audience, which frequently broke into loud cheers.
Monday’s award marks the most definitive step yet on a journey which began 11 years ago when Beckham arrived in the MLS to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy and was granted the option of buying his own franchise for a cut-price figure of around $25 million.Normal franchise licenses cost around $100 million.
“It’s been a hell of a journey,” Beckham told his audience.
“I’ve got to be honest, it was very difficult.There were times when I sat back and thought, ‘This isn’t going to happen.It’s too difficult, too hard, too many bumps in the road.’ But I don’t give up.Nothing in my career came easy.”
– Long road –
In 2014, Beckham announced his plans to launch a team in Miami, but the project rapidly became mired in logistical problems.
Several failed stadium sites delayed his consortium’s efforts, with Beckham’s team unable to find an agreeable place for a specially built venue.
The group edged closer to success last year after securing a land deal for a proposed stadium project.Earlier plans for a waterfront site and others near the Miami Marlins baseball stadium and NBA Miami Heat arena fell through.
Launch of the new Beckham-backed team will mark the second attempt to start a Miami-based MLS franchise.
The Miami Fusion, which made their debut in the 1998 MLS season, played for four seasons before being cut from the league after the 2001 campaign amid low ticket sales and the lowest revenues of any team in the competition.
Beckham, 42, retired in 2013 after a 20-year career that saw him win league crowns with Manchester United in England, Real Madrid in Spain, the Galaxy in North America and Paris Saint-Germain in his farewell matches.
He also played for England from 1996 to 2009, winning 115 caps.
His five-year stint in MLS with the Galaxy boosted football’s profile in North America and contributed to the steady growth in attendances across the MLS.
When Beckham arrived in 2007, average attendances through the league were 16,770; when he ended his five-year stint, they had increased to 18,807 per game.By 2017, that number had increased to 22,113.