Social media expert and MLS alumnus Richard Clarke, provides David Beckham with a checklist of five things to make his Miami venture a success.
The announcement was always going to be a lesson in achingly-cool attention-grabbing.
If two years in Major League Soccer taught me anything, it was the fine art of creating an impact. For example, when my Colorado Rapids hosted the All-Star game, a slick, sparkling opening ceremony ended with a flypast from a Stealth Bomber perfectly timed for the conclusion of the national anthem.
Of course, no such heavy hardware was needed in Florida earlier this week.
They had the coolest footballer in the world, David Beckham, and he was buying into MLS in every way.
The official announcement that his Miami team would be the 25th franchise in 2020 had been a long time coming. Forget the short-term delays over stadium location, this had been on the cards since Beckham joined LA Galaxy in 2007. Part of the deal was the option to purchase a franchise for $25m. Given that Nashville paid a reported $150m to become the 24th team last year, this investment was too good to let a pile of red tape get in the way.
But, as everyone has gleefully pointed out, the hard work must start now and, of course, MLS have already folded one team in Miami - the Fusion - in 2001.
So what must Beckham do to make his franchise fly?
Here’s my checklist.
1. Financial backing. This was part of the delay but Beckham has landed a major ally in Jorge Mas. The Florida construction tycoon missed out on the Miami Marlins to baseball legend Derek Jeter, reportedly offering less than the asking price because of the money it would cost to fix the franchise. Local knowledge, hard-nosed business chops, specific savvy to get a stadium built and deep pockets – TICK, TICK, TICK, TICK.
2. Right stadium in the right location. This was another hold-up. A waterside downtown stadium was blocked so Miami are now planning a 25,000-capacity venue in Overton. It is a compromise and there is concern over the neighbourhood’s transport links. Older MLS franchises such Dallas, Colorado, Columbus and DC United have long been hamstrung by out-of-town or old-dated stadia. Newer entrants like Portland, Seattle, Toronto and Atlanta concentrated on location, location, location (and facilities) to positive effect. Beckham’s stadium will be privately funded, unlike the Marlin’s venue, another factor in their unpopularity. The Fusion were based in Fort Lauderdale, a very different city to Miami. So while the new team will not enter MLS with the 60,000 or 70,000 crowds that heralded relatively recent newcomers Seattle, Orlando and Atlanta, Miami’s reputation is that of an “event town” so consistently selling out the Overton stadium may be a greater challenge than a jam-packed home opener against a star-studded New York City. A tempered TICK.
3. Appoint the right coaching and technical team. MLS is football but not as Europeans know it. For a start there is a strict salary cap with only three Designated Players, a rule brought in to accommodate Beckham’s move to the Galaxy. Then there is Targeted Allocation Money, General Allocation Money, eight international slots, transfer windows, Homegrown players, Generation adidas players, Discovery players, protected lists and, of course, a draft or two. Aside from splashing out on those three big names, you cannot spend your way to success. A coherent strategy, maximum efficiency and exquisite execution are required. First of all, you must outline a footballing vision and then appoint a technical director to fulfil it. He will then need a coaching team that knows MLS mechanics, the college system and nearby leagues full of available players (Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, others in Central and South America). In these circumstances, a lot of clubs invest in a Moneyball approach to get the biggest bang for their buck. So get some geeks too. To be Done.
4. Sign the face of the franchise. The team is going to need a star to sell it. Nearby Orlando City based their side around $7-million-per-year Kaka, New York City FC signed David Villa fresh from a Champions League final appearance for Atletico Madrid, while LAFC will kick-off in March with Mexican international Carlos Vela up front. Common sense would say Miami must sign a major Hispanic player but, just throwing this out there, Cristiano Ronaldo will be 34 in 2020. That is about the right age for a couple of sunset seasons living in Miami Beach. To be Done.
5. Give your fans a coherent message. The most pleasant surprise of my time in MLS was the knowledge of the fanbase. The hardcore supporters know their soccer. There is always a buzz around a new club, for example LAFC had 500,000 followers on social media before they even played their first friendly. Expansion franchises often struggle to make the Play-offs in their early years and crowds dip as much as 20% after the first-season fanfare. Beckham’s presence sprinkles stardust on the team but he cannot guarantee on-field success. The local media covering soccer do not always match the fans’ knowledge of the game so clarity and consistency of communication will be crucial. To be Done.
These are only the 'Florida keys' of course.
In the short term, the Beckham brand will open doors, get hands shaken and put bums on seats (or fannys on bleachers). But it will take much more than that to make Miami famous for soccer as much as beaches, beautiful people and crime shows on television.
Goldenballs has his hands full in the Sunshine state.
Richard Clarke is a digital and social media consultant. He holds the distinction of having run the social media accounts at major football clubs in the Premier League and MLS, having worked for Arsenal and the Colorado Rapids.