All eyes on David Beckham: Do the South Florida locals think he can succeed in Miami?
Now what for David Beckham and his new Miami MLS expansion project? How will the city embrace him and the team? What elements need to fall in place to ensure success? We spoke to the people who have their finger on the pulse of the South Florida soccer scene:
RAY HUDSON (beIN Sports broadcaster, South Florida resident, ex-Fusion manager)
What do you think of David Beckham's official arrival on the scene?
"It's the biggest challenge in sports I can imagine. With the history of sports in this area, it's sufficient to put anyone off. The bling of Beckham is not going to be enough. It's not going to be. He fully recognizes that. ... He's going to have to build a great chain of people. All the right people with the right credentials. The best of the best. That's what it's going to take to cement the historic problems that professional sports have in this area. The allure of Miami is like the call of the sirens. He's got to be like Jason and the Argonauts in his search for the golden fleece. This is what Beckham is going to have to be. It just has to be flawless, basically.
"I do believe that given the cast of members at the top of this chain and Beckham in particular, that Miami will give it an absolute fair chance to rise above and succeed. I think this community now is so ready and when they look at how MLS has succeeded in other marketplaces they'll want to have that gameday event and gameday experience. We're watching PSG, Real Madrid and Barcelona [on TV] and it's fantastic, but it isn't the smell of the stadium and people miss that."
Will Miami compete for star players with New York, LA and Seattle from the start?
"He'll trump them in every way. There'll be no contest. This won't be a competition. They'll want to come to Miami first, foremost and last. That's no knock on those other wonderful cities. But this area, the Beckham brand, the clout that his partners bring, this is going to be like, 'Do you want to play for the Yankees or do you want to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates?' ... They haven't built the allure yet. But if they put the right brlcks in place and if they get it right, the players won't be the problem. There's a multitude of other moving targets that they have to hit. This area has been wounded in the past and they don't forget. But this is another generation from the Strikers and the Fusion. Those fans are virtually grandparents now.
"These kids today are dying to see Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and who knows who Beckham will bring in. It'll be someone from that clout. It's not going to be enough. It's got to be more. The rest of the links of the chain have to be strong and they have chance. There's never been a greater set of components that are perfect for this area than what Don Garber and Beckham produced today. Everything on paper is wonderful. Just like Miami is. Everything looks as if it's just so and just right. But it's like breeding a race horse. You can get the right bloodstock, but you don't know if he can win the Kentucky Derby. Right now the horse is in the stall and everybody loves it."
DAVE BARRY (Columnist, ex-Miami Fusion season ticket holder)
So David Beckham has chosen Miami:
"The David Beckham thing reminds me of Justin Bieber. I took my daughter to see Justin Bieber. It was one man, but there were 13,000 screaming girls and it's kind of like that with David Beckham here. Except this is grown-ups. Everyone's giddy. They've forgotten everything with the Fusion."
And there's talk of a potential stadium on water at Port Miami:
"The Fusion played in the wrong place in an industrial park [at Lockhart Stadium]. This would be on the water. Very glam. Very Miami. Very glitzy … We're nothing if not glitzy and shallow in Miami. I'm not saying he's shallow, but he's definitely glitzy. People here love that. And he's wooing the town the right way."
What's the biggest challenge Beckham faces?
"Beyond the initial excitement, everyone will go watch the games in the beginning. But to get the real soccer fans -- and they're intense here -- you have to convince them that this is big-time soccer. … I'm sure he knows this as well as anybody else. If he can get really big names and raise the image of MLS, which is a big order, but it's what he has to do to get Miami interested. I don't know he can do that, but I'm thinking if anyone can, he can.
"We're not Seattle, Portland and Columbus. Miami doesn’t have the kind of fans that go root for a team because it's the Miami team. We go to watch because they're big-time and we see them as stars and special. He's got to create that feel around the team."
What kind of player does Miami need?
"Someone who's a superstar who everyone wants to see all the time. [Beckham] did that with the LA Galaxy. Someone of his caliber has to come over here and play for this team. You hear the names floating around and I'm sure they're thinking of that. That's what they're going to have to do. Not just a good team out there, but stars."
Does LeBron James joining the ownership group make a big difference?
"I think that's short-term. That'll get people interested and help raise money and help market it. But the fans down here won't go see a team because LeBron James is a part-owner. They're serious soccer fans."
ANDRÉS CANTOR (Telemundo and Fútbol de Primera soccer broadcaster)
How will David Beckham's team be received in Miami?:
"I wish I had a crystal ball. ... This is not an easy city by any means, but definitely there is a soccer fan base here. And I believe the key -- and Beckham knows this -- is that they have to put together a good team and not bring just one star player. That will not do it. It has to be a good team and a competitive team. The Miami Heat did not become great until they brought major stars [Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh] and put them together ... As a soccer player himself, he knows that one star will not cut it."
How has Miami changed from the old Fusion days?
"Miami has evolved into a very dynamic and very powerful city in all means. … They are many, many Latin Americans, new Latin Americans coming in that live here on a permanent basis and there is a huge American fan base as well. This is what this city is all about. Probably unlike any other city, here you have a much broader fan base with pockets: the Argentine community, the Colombian community, the Peruvian community. But they're all soccer fans. If you put a good product, I think they will make it out to the stadium.
"The thing is that MLS doesn't compete against the beach or going to the movies or all the other things to do here in Miami. I think that everybody that has a soccer team in its town competes with Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG. You have to have a good team and a nice atmosphere to go out and spend a couple of hundred bucks to watch your home team when you have Messi, Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo on high-definition television. You need to have some sense of belonging to go out to the stadium whether you live in Miami, NY or anywhere else."
Beckham mentioned the importance of the academy. Can Miami compete with LA as the most fertile areas in the country for youth soccer talents?
"I really do not know. I can tell you that there are lots of kids playing the game here in high schools and in different academies and different private soccer schools. I was involved with the youth movement. There are plenty of kids of all backgrounds, not just hispanic, playing the game. And I always say this: It's not a question of having the kids. Just having quantity does not mean quality and to have quality you have to have good scouts and coaches."
FERNANDO FIORE (Univision talent and Miami resident)
What's the key to success in Miami for David Beckham?
"He needs to call some of his friends and bring us good players. We want a team that will succeed immediately. A new franchise with a good attitude that will succeed."
Where's the best location for a stadium?
"If they can do it right there by the water [Port Miami] it will be a great attraction. It's so cool to be in the Philadelphia Union's stadium [PPL Park] to look at the bridge and water. Imagine in Miami to see cruise ships passing by. And Fisher Island. I think it'd be a great atmosphere."
Which star player will resonate in Miami?
"I don't think it's one player. Beckham has got the power to pick up a phone and make contact with several key people to bring maybe three marquee players. … It can't be one. It has to be at least three. How about one on each line [of defender, midfielder, forward]?"
Did you think you'd see the day where an MLS team would be headed back to Miami?
"To tell you the truth, when they closed down the Fusion [in 2002], deep inside I never thought I'd see another MLS team in Miami. It's not that I lost confidence or faith. But there were so many cities and so many groups in play and so many stadiums eager to be built around the country that I thought it would take a miracle. This is the perfect situation when something happens that you don't expect: That Beckham got the clause to buy a team with a big discount but he couldn't put it in LA or NY. The stars were aligned so perfectly for Miami. It's a soccer miracle."
DARYL SHORE (Current RSL asst. coach and former head coach of Ft. Lauderdale Strikers)
What's the biggest challenge facing Beckham & Co.?
"South Florida wants a winner, but they also want a team down there they can call their own. It's a challenge with the different cultures in South Florida. They've got to really attract players there that the local Miami fans can relate to. If they do that and they put a good product on the field, the fans will come. When the Heat are winning, they're always sold out. When they weren't, people don't go to the games.
"I feel like David Beckham is going to do something down there where with his connections where he's going to bring a big name in there that's a world star that everyone knows about. So it doesn't matter the nationality, they're going to watch him and the team play. But that said, it's tough. They're going to have to do their homework."
As a former coach of the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, can both MLS and NASL teams co-exist?
"There are diehard Strikers fans and they're great fans. I think they really want to see soccer at the highest level down there. Once you get Miami in there, it'll be interesting to see what if anything happens with the Strikers. I do still think the Strikers can stay up in Fort Lauderdale and Miami can be down in Miami and you'd have a first division and second division team. You'd like to think they can somehow work together. Whether or not they do, I doubt it. The fans will go where the good team is."
JEFF CASSAR (RSL head coach, former FIU and Fusion goalkeeper)
What's the best spot for a stadium?
"I'm biased. I'd love it to be close to FIU on the campus. But the downtown area along the water is a fantastic place to hold a soccer game. You want to go big in Miami and somewhere downtown by the water would be great."
What's the secret to winning over the soccer fans in Miami?
"The people want a winning team down there. The most important thing for [Beckham] is putting a team that's going to play attractive soccer and win. The people down there know soccer very well and they want a winning team.
"The people down there are very passionate. I know David is passionate about soccer but also passionate about this league and he cares about MLS. So I think it's a recipe for success. People in South Florida will rally around him because he cares."
Did you think it'd take this long to have the real prospect of another team in Miami?
"I actually thought it'd come back sooner, to be honest. To be successful in South Florida you have to have the right people running it and someone like David's a fantastic person because he strives to be successful in anything he does on and off the field."
MARK CHUNG (Ex-MLS All-Star and South Florida resident)
What kind of team are fans expecting in Miami?
"You have a very educated fan base here. So what style of play do you want to have? A possession style, playing out of the back with attacking flair."
What's the pulse of the Miami soccer community in the wake of the news?
"I think a lot of people are wanting it to happen. I think the plan was always to come down here and do it again and do it correctly. You have probably one of the biggest icons doing it and supporting it and backing it financially. It's a great possibility that this time it will work and you'll have a some great minds behind it trying to support it and develop it. It's going to take a while to develop the fan base for them to come out and support their team."
Thoughts on the potential Port Miami location for a stadium?
"It's a very good idea. You get the downtown feeling. That's what a lot of tourists come here for: the beaches and the downtown feeling. That's a perfect place for it and you'll get people and tourists from all over coming to see it."
Aside from the stadium, what's another big challenge facing Beckham's ownership group?
"There are so many kids playing soccer in South Florida. And there are a lot of national team players that come out of South Florida. You get to play every month of the year. It's non-stop soccer. Having that support from the youth clubs is going to be very important. If the Miami team has a game, none of the club teams in South Florida should have a game or scrimmage going on that day. They should be supporting the team."
Can Miami compete with markets like LA and New York for star players?
"Absolutely. Miami is on that list. You probably ask any foreign professional player and everyone knows Miami. Believe me, I'm sure Ronaldo would love coming here."