By Jeremy Whitehead
8th March 2018
David Beckham is set to become part of the ownership group of the latest MLS expansion team, this time in Miami. The Group known as Miami Beckham United consists of the former England captain, his business partner Simon Fuller and Miami-based Bolivian businessman Marcelo Claure.
Beckham is intending to install an MLS franchise in Miami as part of the league’s expansion plan that has seen recent new teams in St Paul, Los Angeles and Atlanta. The league are hoping to increase the number of teams from 20 to 24 by 2020 and then increase that number to 28 in the subsequent years.
The idea is that MLS will have teams in the biggest, most relevant television markets across the country. The longer-term hope is that the Major League Soccer will be able to break the hold of the ‘big four’ of professional American sports.
Whether or not David Beckham owning a team will help increase overall viewing figures is hard to tell but figures suggest that MLS is not that far behind in the numbers. The NHL is the smallest of the four American sports that have traditionally dominated the markets and on average in 2016-17, 378,000 viewers tuned in across 94 broadcasts; MLS games received 279,000, which is not that far behind. The NHL has a loyal fanbase in North America and the league itself sees a level of parity that makes William Hill betting markets all the more interesting.
For example, the newest team in the NHL, the Vegas Golden Knights, are having a record-breaking, inaugural season. The owner, Bill Foley, had to pay $500 million for the new franchise fee which is now the going rate in the NHL where the average team is worth $517 million.
This is quite an eye-opener when compared to the MLS that, although has seen a huge rise in franchise values, up around 80% from 2013, the average of $185 million is still well below that of the NHL.
Attendances for MLS games are encouraging with an average of 21,692 attending games in the stadiums in 2016. This is higher than both the NHL and the NBA but it is important to take into account the fact that both those sports have smaller arenas than the soccer stadiums of many MLS teams.
Attendances for MLS games are encouraging with an average of 21,692 attending games in the stadiums in 2016.
One thing the MLS does have in its favour is the demographics of the fans it attracts. There is a young and big percentage Latino audience for the sport whereas the NHL tends to attract an older, whiter crowd. The king sport is still the NFL which attracts an audience of all backgrounds and also has huge global reach with many fans in the UK taking advantage of William Hill’s NFL betting coverage.
Miami could be a good fit for the MLS
The MLS may have a long way to go to catch up with the NFL but it is making steady progress and a world star like David Beckham, who played with the LA Galaxy franchise, will only help the sport’s profile. Miami is a good market with the metro area, according to the US Census Bureau, being home to around 5.5 million people, the eighth largest metropolitan area in the US. Whether an MLS franchise will be able to compete with the other big teams in the city is still unknown. The Miami Dolphins of the NFL, the Miami Marlins of the MLB, the Miami Heat of the NBA and the Florida Panthers of the NHL all call the city home. There are plenty of soccer fans in North America but the challenge for the league is to turn those soccer fans into MLS fans.
Perhaps Beckham will bring in a UK audience such is his popularity back home but having a player and man of his stature involved can only be a good thing for MLS as it continues to grow and expand. It may still be behind in the consciousness of the American public but make no bones about it Major League Soccer is on the rise.