Miami leaders urge Beckham to create MLS team
MIAMI - David Beckham was urged to help bring a Major League Soccer team to Miami at a meeting with key political leaders and sports business representatives on Saturday.
Beckham, accompanied by Bolivian born billionaire Marcelo Claure, who wants to team-up with him in owning a new franchise, visited two potential stadiums and met with the mayor of Miami-Dade County Carlos Gimenez, who handed him the keys to the city.
The former England captain, who retired from football last month, played in MLS with L.A. Galaxy and his contract included an option to create a new team for $25 million and he is understood to have other locations in mind as well.
Miami Dade County commissioner Jose 'Pepe' Diaz said there was real backing for a team in Miami.
"There is huge political support. It is not only from the county, it's 100 percent support from the municipalities, the mayors and the commissioner, the counselors from the different cities, they are also extremely supportive," he told Reuters.
Beckham visited Sun Life stadium, home to the NFL's Miami Dolphins, whose owner Stephen Ross recently set up a soccer division, and met with the Dolphins chief executive Mike Dee.
Sun Life holds around 75,000 fans and has hosted several international friendlies in recent years but may be considered overly large for an MLS team.
Together with British entrepreneur Simon Fuller, whose management company XIX Entertainment, handles Beckham's business affairs, Beckham later visited a 20,000 stadium at Florida International University (FIU).
Claure, owner of Bolivian club Bolivar, is a member of the board of trustees of FIU and has previously promoted the idea of an MLS team playing at the venue.
The FIU stadium underwent major renovations in 2007 and is home to the University's American football team.
Jose Sotolongo, the executive director of the Miami-Dade Sports Commission, was among those who met with Beckham and said he had no doubt the city was ready for a top flight soccer team.
"We know that our community can support not only the international soccer (friendlies) that have been coming to Miami for a while now, but that it would support an MLS franchise," he told Reuters.
"The city of Miami has a very international fan base and a very soccer savvy fan base. This is the kind of ownership group that would electrify the community and hopefully we will get good news," he said.
Beckham has declined interviews during his time in South Florida although he did meet with representatives of a fan group which has been campaigning for a team to come to the city.
Julio Caballero, spokesman for the group, who call themselves MLS Miami Bid, said there was a positive mood among the fans.
"I feel really good about it, it looks really positive. It is pretty much down to Beckham now, I have heard he will make his decision inside 90 days," he said.
"Beckham will bring something spectacular here - not just his name, but a class organisation to Miami. Claure knows how to run a club. The two together is just what Miami needs for soccer."
The city briefly had an MLS team, the Miami Fusion, who played in neighboring Fort Lauderdale and joined MLS in 1998 but were closed by the, then, struggling league after four seasons.
The only professional team in the area is the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, who play in the second tier North American Soccer League, and owner Aaron Davidson said that while he would be open to meeting with Beckham they would take on the challenge of another team if one emerged.
"It is great that people showing interest in South Florida soccer. We would be happy to talk to him, but ultimately if he decides to do something in South Florida without us, we look forward to the rivalry," he said. (Editing by Julian Linden)