By Pat Martin, Soccer Editor
Carson, CA (Sports Network) -
Beckhamania is officially here.
International soccer star David Beckham was introduced at a press conference at The Home Depot Center as the newest member of the L.A. Galaxy Friday with Paris Hilton-like fanfare.
The story was on the fronts of major newspapers across the country as well as all over TV and the Internet, but what does this mean for Major League Soccer?
What it means is the league finally has a star that is bigger than the league. MLS has its A-Rod, its Jordan, its Gretzky. Next thing MLS needs is a steroids scandal like Major League Baseball, or a player to go on a criminal rampage like Adam "Pacman" Jones in the National Football League, because nothing builds interest like controversy.
Beckham is a player who can generate news both on and off the field and attract the beautiful people to the games (which will in turn attracts the rest of us). While he may not even be the best player in MLS, he can become the Anna Kournikova of the league - a player that generates more headlines for wardrobe or hairstyle than actual athletic talent.
Beckham will add big money to the league through advertisement revenues, jersey sales, and ticket revenues, which in turn should improve the league by giving teams the financial flexibility to sign better players. He is a player who can attract enough sponsorship that the league's national TV partners ESPN and FSC will heavily promote the league, which in turn will generate more interest.
Beckham isn't scheduled to play a league match until Aug. 5 in Toronto, but ESPN plans to televise his first match - a friendly against Chelsea FC in the World Series of Football on July 21 - complete with a 'Beckham cam.' Where else would you be able to see a Beckham snot-rocket during breaks of action than on a camera that will follow his every move?
David Beckham joins the Galaxy in an unprecedented 5-year, $250 million contract.
After that he will probably play SuperLiga fixtures July 24 and July 28 against Mexican First Division teams before his league debut.
Beckham's No. 23 Galaxy jersey sales have reportedly already reached 250,000. Nothing new for Beckham considering he sold one million Real Madrid jerseys in his first six months there. Has an MLS player ever sold that many jerseys in the history of the league?
"I'm looking forward to starting training next week, I'm looking forward to the first game, I'm looking forward to the support that you have all shown me throughout my career, not just coming here to Los Angeles but throughout my career," Beckham said.
MLS teams that play in larger venues - Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium, Red Bull New York at Giants Stadium, D.C. United at RFK Stadium, among others - are expecting to sell out their venues at full capacity when the Galaxy come to town. Those are staggering figures considering those are 60,000-plus seat stadiums and normal MLS attendance is in the 10-15,000 range.
There is no other athlete in the world who has the draw of Beckham, even in a country that views soccer as a second or even third tier sport. His signing with MLS is a huge step toward legitimizing the sport in this country.
"Potentially in the states, soccer could be as big as it is everywhere else around the world," Beckham said. "I'm am very proud to be a part of that for the next five years (at $50 million per including endorsements) and maybe a few more years later."
That statement may be a stretch, but soccer does have the potential to rival a second-tier league like the current National Hockey League in the States.
"Our responsibility is to maximize the exposure we get and to use it to our benefit, but also not to abuse it," Galaxy President and General Manager Alexi Lalas said to the Press-Enterprise. "We recognize there are short-term benefits, but more importantly there are long-term benefits, and this is going to be a long-term play. We don't have to do everything in the first two weeks, and it's not going to go perfectly."
The first thing he needs to do is pull the Galaxy out of their current funk and get them back in the playoff picture. No easy task considering his game is tailored to be a supporting player who takes free kicks and crosses from the wings. The 32-year-old has scored less than 100 goals in a little under 500 career club and international fixtures during his career.
"For me we are getting a great person, a winner on and off the field," Galaxy head coach Frank Yallop said. "(Beckham is) making sure that his teammates like him, he wins games, (he's) a great leader and that is what we are getting here in L.A. I'm very, very excited and I cannot wait to get him on the field with his boots on, his kit on, his Galaxy jersey on, start to win some games and enjoy our time here."
"I'm looking forward to this, my wife (Victoria Beckham, a.k.a. Posh Spice) is here, my family is here, so thank you very much and good luck and keep supporting us," Beckham said.
MLS commissioner Don Garber couldn't have said it better himself.