Beckham: I want to make this team my own
MIAMI -- David Beckham has exercised his option to purchase a Major League Soccer expansion team in Miami, and the deal will be finalized when the former England captain can secure a financing plan and location for a new stadium.
"I am thrilled to announce that David Beckham has exercised his option to purchase an MLS expansion team and has selected Miami for his club," MLS commissioner Don Garber said Wednesday.
Beckham made the announcement during a news conference in Miami with Garber and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
"Thank you for the warm welcome," Beckham told a crowd of more than 300 people who attended the news conference at a downtown museum plaza on a sunny, 80-degree morning. "This is an exciting time and something we're really looking forward to bringing to Miami."
Beckham has scouted possible stadium sites and is seeking investors to assist with start-up costs such as construction and player acquisitions. Among those who might become involved is Beckham's friend LeBron James, who has had recent conversations with the retired soccer star about bringing a team to Miami.
"We don't want public funding," Beckham said to applause. "We will fund the stadium ourselves. We have worked very hard to get to this stage where we can fund the stadium ourselves. We want to create a football club that is the people's football club."
On Wednesday, Beckham told ESPN he would continue to pursue James' involvement.
"Talks have been ongoing, but we're friends at the end of the day. He's a lover of Miami obviously. He's a lover of the sport, and he's one of the world's greatest sportsman. So to have him involved would be great, but to have him involved as a friend and as a fan… that's more important," Beckham said.
Beckham, looking the part of a businessman in a suit and tie, said the mayor made a commitment to place a stadium downtown. Gimenez -- who at one point referred to Beckham as "Beckman" -- said there is political support for a stadium plan.
The next steps are to sit down with city officials and his business partners, Beckham said.
"People like to walk to football. I've seen what it is like in Seattle," he said. "We can't build a stadium in six months, but once we have a site, once we work with the mayor and the commissioners of Miami, we will be pretty quick."
The stadium plan that has gained the most attention is a bid to lease a parcel of county-owned land in the Port of Miami.
The proposed site is close to the Miami Heat's basketball arena and Miami Beach hotel district, but county commissioners have encouraged MLS to consider other sites away from the busy port.
Beckham's investment group, Miami Beckham United, has begun negotiations with the county over the seaport site, according to the Miami Herald. Miami-Dade officials have said that any deal involving public land would have to clear political hurdles.
The group has said it plans to use private funds to build the stadium, though it has hired a Tallahassee lobbyist to seek a state subsidy other professional sports teams have received.
The mayor said negotiations for a stadium site are ongoing.
"We are willing partners. We are very grateful that David Beckham and MLS have chosen Miami as the site for their franchise," Gimenez said. "We are going to do all in our power to get the stadium built in the right place."
Asked why he chose Miami, Beckham said, "Why not?"
As to whether he had marquee players in mind for Miami, Beckham told reporters it would be presumptuous to assume anything, but admitted to ESPN that he has been "getting phone calls, which is a good thing," and would be making his best effort to lure stars.
"I think that's what is going to bring this team and give this team some success and give this team a global name," he said of the star power. "When you bring great players in, you know the world gets interested, and that's what we need to do. We plan on bringing players through from a young age and bringing local talent. We also plan on bringing great players and players that have also been at the best clubs in the world, so we'll work on that."
He said he looked forward to starting a team from scratch with business partners Simon Fuller as well as Marcelo Claure -- the billionaire owner of Brightstar Corp.
"I want to make it my own team," Beckham said. "I know this city is ready for football, and this is going to be successful."
As part of the MLS contract he signed when he joined the Los Angeles Galaxy, the former Manchester United, Real Madrid and Galaxy star had the right to an expansion team at a discount fee of $25 million. MLS' Miami Fusion played in Fort Lauderdale from 1998 to 2001 before folding because of poor attendance.
"You know it's up to use to make sure that we have full stadiums almost every game," Beckham told ESPN. "It's up to us to create something that people can be proud of, and we're going to do that."
The crowd at the news conference included chanting fans and several dozen photographers who jostled for pictures.
"People here love this sport," Garber said. "We together have no doubt it will be a very successful MLS team."
Garber has recently pushed for rapid MLS expansion, starting with New York City FC in 2015. Miami is the league's 22nd franchise. The league hopes to place its next expansion team in Atlanta.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.