Marcelo Claure, Bolivian co-investor of the proposed Barca Miami franchise said David Beckham’s possible exit from MLS would terminate Barcelona’s aggressively marketed bid into MLS.
“The economic picture changes if David Beckham does not return to MLS,” Claure told El Deber. “Today, I would say that [Barca Miami] will not happen. Being optimistic, we have a 50% chance to get the franchise.”
Simultaneously, the LA Times reported that Beckham, MLS, and Serie A will sign an agreement this week allowing Beckham to play with Milan till season end May 31 and return to Los Angeles July 15 when the transfer window opens. Beckham would miss 17, more than half of the 30 regular season MLS games and return to Milan at the end of MLS season. Financial compensation was implied, but not released.
Per existing contract, Beckham is due back March 9. The last word from MLS is $10 million or no deal. Now it appears Barcelona is leveraging their deal on his immediate return. The mettle of MLS Commissioner Don Garber is being tested.
What Barcelona wants
This fall, Claure, CEO of Brightstar Communications, Joan Laporta, Barcelona president, and Joan Oliver, general director, campaigned on all fronts to launch a Miami franchise in 2010. The club would operate rent-free in the 18,000 seat Florida International University’ stadium for two years, then expand to its own US based academy and soccer specific stadium. Barcelona’s projected investment is estimated at 30%, in that Oliver explained, “We’ll provide the people, the coach, the technical secretary and the players.”
Barcelona came into this venture firing on all cylinders, building off the Beckham initiative, targeting historical rivalries in their campaign. In February 2008, Barcelona signed with CAA Sports for representation in the MLS expansion process, including marketing its brand and slogan, “More than a Club.”
“We wanted to form an Ibero-American team, with players from Bolivia, Spain, Columbia, Venezuela, etc.,” Claure said yesterday. “To succeed in Miami, you need to form a team including Latino players, reflected in the fans, and obviously the team should have a Spanish touch with players from Spain and, of course, players from the USA. We have to include the Americans, because the League only allows eight foreign players per team.”
“We will provide this franchise with players from our academies around the world and the ones we will build in the States in order to make a profitable franchise so that shareholders will be compensated for our efforts,” Laporta told Sports Business Journal in October. “We want profits, but the most important thing will be to make a competitive team.”
“We want a strong presence in America,” said Laporta when he introduced the proposal. “We plan to embrace this team and make it one of the best in MLS. We want it to win.”
MLS jumped all over this bid, trampling hopeful prospects St. Louis, Montreal, Portland, Atlanta, and Vancouver while shaking hands with Barca, arguably one of the world’s biggest clubs.
What Barca Miami means to MLS
The prospect of an international club like FC Barcelona positioning within MLS is a critical juncture in the American league. Barca is poised to bring international style and dimension to U.S. soccer, isolated from other leagues and cultures by geography. The international appeal/friction might well be the marketing appeal that elevates soccer beyond baseball, football, basketball. Potentially, there could be Boca Juniors, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Real Madrid franchises within MLS, laying claims on heritage in a blended society. More franchises, particularly with strong brands, create economies of scale necessary for broadcasters and sponsors. Barca sees itself as the first of several major clubs exploiting new U.S. markets and bringing World Cup flavor into the regular MLS season.
“We are pioneers,” said Oliver, “and if it turns out well, other clubs will follow us.”
“MLS needs to analyze what would be the benefit to Barcelona of Spain in the league,” Claure told El Deber yesterday. “The project, in general, was seen as something positive, but by analyzing in detail, the situation changes. In this case the league, because Beckham represents economic figures, should consider what it can mean to have an institution like Barca to MLS — there is a big difference with a player.”
“The treatment has to be different,” said Claure, “since the economic picture changes if David Beckham does not return to the US.”
David Beckham represents England and the international rivalry Barcelona would use to market its franchise, with its own strong Latin flavor. Beckham also represents benchmark ticket sales in all MLS clubs and his never-ending notoriety keeps soccer in the media.
Possible Adidas/Nike conflict
Barcelona has tested new waters before. Instead of a paying sponsor, they put the charity UNICEF on team jerseys and according to Bloomberg, increased the value of its Nike uniform deal 67% or $63 million a year, reportedly because Nike wanted to associate with a charity. But the Nike contractual relationship could also be a conflict, as Adidas supplies all MLS uniforms.
In February, when AC Milan began to make loud noises about keeping Beckham, Olive told Spanish webside Sport.es, “The chances of us not joining are higher than when we announced our interest,” citing the $40 million price tag in a faltering economy. Now, Barcelona is saying if Beckham walks, so do they, and MLS brass face ultimatums at a potential turning point in the league.