For a sport that hardly even registers in the consciousness of most Americans, the signing of former Manchester United star David Beckham to the United States' Los Angeles Galaxy pro soccer team has created a lot of ripples in the media. Maybe it's more that he'll be bringing his wife Victoria, better known as Posh Spice, with him.
Sometimes, sports figures believe they transcend the sport itself. Dennis Rodman's stint with basketball's Chicago Bulls comes to mind, as does baseball's Barry Bonds. The care and feeding required of in-your-face sports personalities is a full-time job.
Already, Major League Soccer (a misnomer if there ever were one) passed the so-called "Beckham rule," which allows soccer teams to exceed their salary cap if they sign a player like Beckham. But is Beckham worth it? He left England's Manchester United to go to play in Spain, where he's started all of seven of their 25 games so far. Now, when his contract expires in August, he'll ship to the U.S. to play for the Galaxy.
Fortunately for Beckham, it's not about soccer anymore. It's all about marketing. Heck, the Galaxy don't even care about him playing; its season opens in April, but Beckham won't be able to play until August. They're cranking up the marketing machine anyway, selling tickets based on him joining now. Fans bought 1,000 season tickets on the announcement, along with 100 premium seats.
When you add up all the particulars of Beckham's contract -- salary, endorsements, a cut of ticket and jersey sales -- it approaches $50 million a year. At least he can still play ...
Beckham's manager is Simon Fuller, the brains behind American Idol and founder of 19 Entertainment, a division of CKX
Beckham is no stranger to the world of marketing. Procter & Gamble's
The soccer league is backing his debut in hopes that it will raise interest -- any interest -- in the sport. When Pele was brought in by the New York Cosmos back in the 1970s, there was a surge of U.S. interest in soccer that lasted a few years. Other European soccer exiles like Franz Beckenbauer and George Best also gave a temporary boost that couldn't be sustained. But they didn't have Posh Spice at their side; she'll be "Brand Beckham" to the crossroads of celebrity, sports, and entertainment.
I find it hard to believe that Beckham will do anything for the sport of soccer in the U.S., beyond some transient interest. His best years are behind him, at least on the soccer pitch, but it doesn't matter -- he transcends the sport. Nor will it stop corporate sponsors from lining up to stick his name on their products, and in our faces.
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Fool contributor Rich Duprey used to play, coach, and referee soccer, but he does not own any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.