By Barry Janoff
May 5, 2014: David Beckham has years of experience successfully taking on opponents on the soccer pitch. But he's finding that taking on a squad of mayors, corporations and "concerned citizens" may be more difficult.
This past February, Major League Soccer said that Beckham had exercised his option for an MLS expansion team, and that Miami head been selected as the city for the new club.
“We appreciate all that David has done as a player, an ambassador and as a global icon to help grow Major League Soccer,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said at the time “We are thrilled that he will be an owner, and we look forward to him helping us achieve our goal of being one of the top soccer leagues in the world.”
The approval of expansion by MLS came with a major clause: A stadium deal in dowtown Miami must be in place with secure financial backing before the league gives its ultimate approval.
This past Friday (May 4), the State Legislature of Florida moved the plans of both Beckham and Orlando City Soccer along a bit by passing bill HB 7095 (by an 89-27 vote), which would in 2015 provide $7 million that leagues and organizations planing expansion or enhancements to access. That would include MLS as well as Daytona International Speedway, which is undergoing a $400 million renovation.
Beckham''s team — officially known as Beckham Miami United — have proposed a site on Dodge Island, located about a half mile from the entrance of PortMiami.
None the less, as Beckham and crew are finding out, securing a stadium is easier said than done.
Strong opposition has come from a group known as Miami Seaport Alliance, which includes Royal Caribbean (which is headquartered there), more than a dozen mayors and vice mayors from municipalities in Miami-Dade County and "concerned citizens and PortMiami stakeholders, including stevedores, longshore workers, cruise lines and cargo carriers, that are focused on ensuring the long-term success of the port," according to MSA.
MSA's position: "The Alliance wholeheartedly supports a soccer franchise in Miami and believes there are other sites that would benefit greatly from a stadium. However, PortMiami is not one of them, due to the risks a port stadium would pose to jobs, cruise and cargo operations, security, and the port’s promising future."
Other major cruise lines headquartered there include Carnival Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Line, which have not as yet made their feelings public regarding the proposed location of the soccer stadium.
“The port’s maritime cargo and cruise activity supports 207,000 jobs in South Florida and generates over $27 billion in economic activity,” Miami Seaport Alliance president John Fox said in a statement. “Even the hint of a disruptive non-port-related activity, such as a stadium, could force a cargo or cruise ship to leave the port, which would result in the loss of thousands of jobs."
MSA recently launched a multi-media campaign "to get the facts to the people of Miami-Dade County," according to Fox, and support their position that the stadium at its current proposed location would "put good paying jobs at risk" and incur security risks.
The campaign pulled no punches, proclaiming, "Before we get stuck with another stadium deal here in Miami, let's look at the facts," which include PortMiami supporting more than 200,000 jobs and $27 billion annually to the local economy.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who is among the mayors that have publicly sided with the Miami Seaport Alliance, this week offered a counter proposal to Beckham Miami United, a waterfront tract of land near AmericanAirlines Arena, which is home to the NBA's Miami Heat.
According to a statement from Beckham Miami United, “Our goal from the outset has been to create a great fan experience, to provide an economic asset that creates jobs, and design a stadium that communicates the energy of Miami to the entire world. The Port is a strong site; however, a stadium next to AmericanAirlines Arena is an exciting possibility.”
Opposition is far less vocal upstate in Orlando, where another recently approved MLS expansion franchise is moving ahead. An estimated $85 million stadium in the downtown area is scheduled to begin breaking ground next year, with completion scheduled for 2016.
Local industry analysts said the backing for the stadium could build to $110 million with the addition of state funds.
"The Alliance wholeheartedly supports a soccer franchise in Miami and believes there are other sites that would benefit greatly from a stadium."
MLS, currently in its 19th season, now has 19 clubs, with expansion teams in New York City FC and Orlando eyeing 2015. as their inaugural seasons. Garber and MLS executives have also unveiled plans to add three more clubs by 2020, one of which would be in Miami, pending finalization of a new stadium.
Beckham Miami United also includes Beckham's business partner Simon Fuller, businessman and investor Marcelo Claure. Soccer icon Pelé has come out in favor of Beckham's Miami franchise.
As for Beckham, "We appreciate the work done by our government officials and their recognition of the enormous popularity of soccer," he said after the State Legislation passed the financial bill. "Today is not only good for Orlando and Miami, it's great for all of Florida. I look forward to continuing the work with our fans and the community."