David Beckham changed the game of football, sorry soccer, in America as a player. And now he's set to shake the MLS up all over again with his new club, Inter Miami.
His arrival to LA Galaxy back in 2007 was the first time since the days of Pele and George Best that a true global superstar would play their football in the United States. This was a truly revolutionary move for one of the most famous men on the planet but it paid off for Becks. But now that his playing days are over his influence is set to grow, not diminish. Inter Miami are already forging an identity for themselves.
“To be welcomed the way we got welcomed was incredible. But the league, without a doubt, has gone on to a whole different level from that moment to now,” he told reporters at Wednesday's league’s kickoff event in Manhattan.
“Do I think in the next 10 years it will challenge the European leagues? It’s what we all hope for. It’s what we will strive to commit to."
These are the words of a man who knows that he is on the cusp of something big. Last weekend his Inter Miami side, something that was purely a pipe dream a decade ago played their first competitive game as they begin on their MLS adventure. This has been a long time coming for Beckham, who has always planned for this eventuality.
In fact, back when he signed for LA Galaxy from Real Madrid, his five-year contract included an option to purchase an expansion franchise once he had retired. Eleven years on the club were founded and now they are building their own stadium and renovating an entire area in Miami.
But Beckham’s influence on the league has not just been with his new Miami franchise. When he joined in 2007 he increased the profile of the division tenfold. As MLS adopted the Designated Player Rule, other international stars flocked to join him in the States. Thierry Henry joined New York Red Bulls and later Kaka, David Villa and Robbie Keane would all play in the division.
With more fans now watching the division thanks to Beckham and co. clubs were able to charge more for sponsorship and reap the benefits of a lucrative television rights deal with ESPN. More money for the clubs meant for better players, better training facilities and better coaches, which has raised the standard of the football on show.
With all this money now available, you can see why clubs have flocked to join the division. When Beckham first joined in 2007 there were just 13 clubs playing in the MLS across the United States. This season, there are 26 teams. By 2022 that number will rise to 30 as teams start up in Austin, Charlotte, St. Louis and Sacramento.
Now Beckham cannot take all of the credit for the huge growth in the sport in America but he was the catalyst to the new-found success. All of the top five single game viewing records have come within the last two years while the number going to games is also on the up. Portland Timbers have sold out 66 consecutive games and have 10,000 fans on the waiting list for a season ticket.
In 2019, 8,676,109 people went to watch 408 MLS games, making the average attendance at each game 21,305. In 2006 that figure was 16,460.
More teams means more fans. More fans means more money. More money means better players. The MLS is growing at a rapid rate and the way we have seen it grow from almost nothing to where it is today proves it has been a big success. Beckham has played a large part in that and in a decade or so we could see some of the world’s best players choosing to spend the prime years of their career stateside.