MIAMI (AP) — David Beckham had a speech prepared and well-rehearsed for the event four years in the making, then abandoned his script shortly after taking the confetti-covered stage.
Fitting, since nothing in his quest went as planned.
“Bringing an MLS club to Miami,” Beckham said, “has been a hell of a journey.”
The journey is now complete, in some respects: Beckham has his team, and Miami is back in Major League Soccer.
Beckham and MLS announced Monday that the long-awaited franchise is now born. It took Beckham nearly four years just to get this far with Miami, and there are a slew of details still to come — such as the team name, logo, when it will start play and when the stadium will open.
The biggest hurdle, it seems, has now been cleared.
“Welcome, Miami,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said.
“Hola, Miami,” Beckham said, a nod to the multicultural makeup of the city.
The team will play in a 25,000-seat, privately funded stadium, though it remains unclear when that will open — a very possible scenario is that the team begins play in 2020, and moves into its permanent home in time for the 2021 season. Part of the deal also is that Beckham’s group will build a training center and an academy focused on developing local players.
“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,” Beckham said.
Beckham is a global icon — in the soccer world, the entertainment world, even the fashion world . He started his career with Manchester United and also played for Real Madrid, Los Angeles Galaxy, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain. He was a fixture in international matches for England for years, and won four championships in four different leagues around the globe.
He told a story of how as a 12-year-old, a coach told him that he wouldn’t play professionally or for England. He persevered anyway, became perhaps the biggest name in the game when his playing career was at its peak — and the same doggedness was necessary to get a deal done in Miami, after the quest for a franchise nearly failed several times along the way.
“We’re here because of David,” said Marcelo Claure, one of Beckham’s partners.
Monday’s event — a pep rally, with a few hundred fans in attendance and a red carpet interview area snaking through the media room — was intentionally benign in many respects. The MLS logo for all the signage had a black background, with the word “Miami” printed below it in white. Specific details were few and far between.
“We’ll be the best team,” Beckham said. “When I was awarded the team, there was only one city for me. Only one city, and it was here.”
The idea of the franchise coming to Miami began looking very real last spring, when Miami-Dade County commissioners approved a deal to sell Beckham nearly three acres of county land for $9 million — the last parcel needed for the nine-acre site in the city’s Overtown neighborhood, where the stadium is likely to be built. MLS officials said even then they hoped to announce the team’s official inclusion into the league last summer.
It took a few more months, and there’s still plenty of questions. But for one day, there was also plenty of celebrating.
“My fellow Miamians, finally, we are here,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said. “This announcement has been a long time coming.”
The return of the Miami market to MLS is the latest chapter in the league’s steady expansion .
In 2006, there were 12 MLS clubs and the expansion fee to enter the league was $10 million. Miami becomes the 25th franchise after the addition last month of expansion Nashville — which paid a $150 million entry fee. MLS’ average attendance at matches has also risen nearly 43 percent over that 12-year span.
Beckham’s group didn’t pay anywhere near what Nashville did. As part of former English star’s playing contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy, Beckham had the right to establish an MLS franchise for $25 million. He formally announced Miami as his pick in February 2014.
“Our town. Our city,” said Miami businessman Jorge Mas, another of Beckham’s partners. “Dreams are realized where freedom reigns.”