By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 14, 2007
CARSON, Calif., July 13 -- "Welcome to David Beckham's America," Pat O'Brien exhaled into one of dozens of television cameras clustered beneath a spotless Southern California sky.
While the host of "The Insider" looked back on what was surely the wackiest media event in Major League Soccer history, a few yards over his shoulder the Los Angeles Galaxy's soccer supernova was chatting with CNN. It was one of more than 65 television interviews the country's newest sports celebrity logged during his first full day in Los Angeles, speaking to everyone from "Inside Edition" and "Access Hollywood" to al-Jazeera.
Still underfoot were the trampled remains of brightly colored confetti, which had burst forth from a pair of cannons when Beckham was formally introduced to a crowd of 5,000 fans and 700 media members from more than a dozen countries.
"It's what Americans do best," said Fox Soccer Channel's Nick Webster, a British native. "This country knows how to present somebody, how to turn something that's not very interesting into an event. And today was an event, there's no two ways about it. I've covered soccer in this country for 10 years, and I've never seen anything close to what we've seen today."
Outside the front gate, fans still streamed into the Galaxy's team store, which had to restrict access earlier in the day because of overcrowding. The store, though, made room for Beckham's marital partner in celebrity excess, Victoria. Still wearing her bright pink dress and outsize sunglasses about an hour after she had posed for paparazzi at the formal event, the pop star known as Posh Spice now racked up a bill of just more than $583 worth of Galaxy merchandise.
"We've got to look good for the first game, right?" she said, laughing.
As a growing mob of two dozen photographers and videographers pressed their lenses against the store's windows, Posh was whisked out and promptly deposited into a Lexus sport-utility vehicle with tinted windows, presumably en route back to the couple's $22 million Beverly Hills mansion.
In the coming years, MLS will be judged on how successfully it capitalizes on the arrival of the 32-year-old British icon, he of the movie title and the cologne brand and the personalized Adidas clothing line and the much-publicized five-year U.S. contract that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. "A diamond in a dung heap," predicted a columnist from the Guardian.
But regardless of whether the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star propels 12-year-old MLS into the sporting mainstream, the immediate publicity jolt has carried all the subtlety of a Hollywood blockbuster. Despite Beckham's protestations that all he's worried about is soccer -- or as he kept apologetically referring to it, "football" -- his arrival will be signaled by an hour-long NBC documentary about his wife, a nearly naked cover shoot for W magazine and ESPN's "Beckham Cam."
The Galaxy has sold more than 10,000 season tickets, all 42 of its luxury suites and most of its club seats; Adidas has shipped 250,000 Beckham jerseys to retail locations; and the Galaxy's upcoming road trip will yield tens of thousands of curious fans, including an expected sellout next month in Washington.
Friday brought out the league's commissioner, Don Garber, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was roundly booed. The hoopla also yielded a helicopter overhead and a media registration line 120 people deep, with at least 10 camera crews documenting the media check-in scene.
"It's at least three times as big as a red carpet event," marveled Rick Sproxton of Australia's Network Ten.
"I've shot the Oscars before; this is bigger than the Oscars," freelance photographer Branimir Kvartuc said. "Insane. Insane. I can't believe it. I've never seen anything like this."
After he left the "international media suite," but before he went back down to the field to meet with the dozens of TV crews, Beckham was asked, by a reporter from People magazine no less, about his much-publicized friendship with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes; "They've welcomed us so far really amazingly," he said.
He was asked about the notorious L.A. traffic. "Traffic was great, actually," he said. "It only took us like 50 minutes, which wasn't too bad."
And he was asked about his new teammates, whom he met shortly before his big moment. " I think we all realize that it will be a bit crazy for a while," he said, "but hopefully it will settle down and then we can get down to playing soccer and enjoying the game."
These teammates, many of whom earn in the low five figures, didn't attend the media event; they were off training at one of the complex's practice fields. But afterward, while munching on pizza and signing autographs for the club's Fantasy Summer Campers, the Galaxy's regulars said Beckham seemed like a humble and friendly guy.
"We're just kind of excited to just get started, get him on the field, get him in soccer cleats rather than dress shoes doing press conferences," midfielder Kyle Martino said.
The team's previous star Landon Donovan -- no stranger to celebrity, with his actress wife Bianca Kajlich -- was asked if he could predict what the next few weeks would be like for this suddenly famous club. "Not really," he said. "We can pretend, but I don't know. If today's any indication, though, it's gonna be nuts."