MLS's Posh Pickup

English Superstar Beckham to Sign a 5-Year Contract Worth $250 Million With L.A. to Become the League's 'Pied Piper'

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 12, 2007; Page E01

Major League Soccer has taken modest steps on the U.S. sports landscape since its inception 11 years ago, but with the signing of English superstar David Beckham, the league has attempted to expand its footprint beyond the soccer community and appeal to a mainstream audience that might not know a corner kick from a corner bakery.

Beckham, a former England World Cup captain whose glamorous personal life has often overshadowed his on-field contributions, announced yesterday that he will leave Real Madrid after the Spanish league season and join the Los Angeles Galaxy this summer.

As England's captain, David Beckham led his country to the quarterfinals of the World Cup last summer.
As England's captain, David Beckham led his country to the quarterfinals of the World Cup last summer. (Adrian Dennis - AFP/Getty Images)

In announcing the blockbuster deal, MLS and the Galaxy said Beckham will sign a five-year contract that could earn him $250 million, but sources around the league said it is a highly complex agreement that is tied to marketing projects and will also compensate him through league initiatives after his playing career is over. He is expected to make his MLS debut in June.

"He may very well serve as the Pied Piper for MLS," said David Carter, a Los Angeles-based sports marketing executive and professor at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business. "They're going to get people to the stadiums, but it's going to be up to the league to make sure they come back and to convert them into regular fans. They're going to have to deliver beyond Beckham."

Beckham, 31, is not the best player in the world -- far from it. But he is perhaps the most famous athlete on the planet, and MLS, a league playing in the long shadows of the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball, believes his personality and style will attract as much attention to its sport as his bending crosses and precision free kicks.

"David Beckham is a global sports icon who will transcend the sport of soccer in America," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a prepared statement.

Beckham's contract certainly transcends previous MLS standards. Last season, the average MLS player earned about $100,000, and most teams had several players making the league minimum of $11,700.

"The first thing that jumped out at me was the figure he was making. I mean, that's unbelievable," said former D.C. United player Alecko Eskandarian, who was traded to expansion club Toronto FC last month. "As much as I'm all for the exposure, I feel like if [MLS clubs] have all this money they could divvy up some of it, especially for some of the younger players with developmental contracts. It's really not fair what they make. To think that one guy could make more in one day of practice than some guys make for a whole year of effort is pretty shocking."

Beckham's signing was made possible by an MLS rule change in November -- one that allows each of the league's 13 teams to acquire a marquee player beyond the limitations of the salary cap. The rule is officially called the Designated Player Rule, but has been known from its inception in MLS circles as the Beckham Rule.

The salary cap is expected to be approximately $2.2 million per team next year, but under the new rules only $400,000 of Beckham's salary will count against the cap. MLS will pay Beckham $400,000 per year, while the Galaxy's investment group, Anschutz Entertainment Group, will pay the remainder. Exact terms of the contract were not disclosed, but the $250 million figure reportedly includes commercial endorsements, merchandising income and a share of club profits.

Real Madrid currently is paying Beckham $11 million per year strictly for playing soccer.

Beckham will become the biggest name to play professionally in the United States since Brazilian icon Pele joined the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League in the late 1970s. His signing led to a wild escalation of salaries and the eventual collapse of the league after the 1984 season.

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