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The Measure of Beckham

By Andrew Winner
The Talisman

As the 2008 season approaches, one of the main questions is whether the spike in interest after David Beckham’s arrival will carry over into the 2008 season. He’s supposedly fully healthy and continued interest will mean a financial boon for the L.A. Galaxy and MLS as a whole.

According to BrandCurve, a branding and marketing website, in 2007 MLS jersey sales rose by 780%. Additionally, attendance doubled in games where Beckham played. (Although it’s hard to tell what the true attendance figures are – in the past MLS has been dogged by allegations of “papering” the stands to artificially inflate attendance numbers.)

Even web traffic jumped through the roof when he arrived in Los Angeles last summer.

The question now is this: will these trends continue in the 2008 season now that the novelty is worn off?

To borrow a phrase from the Magic 8 Ball, all signs point to “no” – early indicators show his drawing power is decreasing. In the Galaxy’s preseason tour to Asia, where Beckham’s popularity is supposedly unrivaled, tickets sold slowly in South Korea and Hong Kong. This is difficult news to swallow for the Galaxy, which was counting on full stadiums to recoup their investment in Beckham.

While it seems unlikely that Beckhamania will proceed at 2007 levels, there are a number of factors helping him stay in the forefront of the popular mind.

  • His patented free-kicks lend themselves to SportsCenter highlights.
  • David, who was considered for a role in the latest Rambo movie, and his wife Victoria continue to soak up the spotlight in Los Angeles.
  • Beckham continues to sign new endorsement deals, the latest with Newell Rubbermaid, Inc., makers of the Sharpie.
  • If the proposed friendly between England and the United States comes to pass, Beckham will find himself in the middle of another media frenzy, especially if that game is his 100th cap.

So what will he accomplish in this, his first full, healthy season in MLS? He will boost attendance even when he isn’t around – last season, MLS clubs encouraged fans to purchase season tickets in order to guarantee their spot when Beckham came to town. They are doing the same again this season.

But can he make soccer the most popular sport in America? Those who ask this question miss the point.

The true measure of his success is not to bring MLS onto the same level as Major League Baseball and the National Football League. This will simply not happen, not in our lifetimes. However, he can bring domestic soccer to an interest level on par with golf, hockey, and auto racing.
A Portuguese firm lists Beckham as only the 44th highest-paid soccer player in the world, excluding endorsements and other revenues. In these terms, he is a relative bargain. If one man can lift MLS to the level of the second-tier sports in the sports-hungry United States, it would be quite an accomplishment indeed, both culturally and financially.

Notes:

Lately, the film Goal! The Dream Begins has been in heavy rotation on one of the Encore channels. If I see that it is on, I can’t turn it off – consequently, I’ve seen the last 60 minutes about a dozen times.

As much as I like the film, a simple mispronunciation in the climactic final scene takes a great deal of luster of the entire movie. The main character, Santiago, tells his friend and agent Glen that his father watched him play against Fulham. Problem is, he pronounces the club as “Full Ham” – a clear gaffe.

As someone who used to take regular ribbings for his pronunciation of the word Premiership (emphasis on the “Prem” of course), perhaps I’m hypersensitive. But to me, this mistake is unforgiveable.

Now I’ve put a disproportionate amount of thought into this – I suppose it’s possible that Santiago’s mispronunciation is merely evidence of his inexperience in England. But upon closer review, Fulham is pronounced correctly earlier in the film, so this explanation holds no water.

My other beef with the film? As Gavin Harris scores against Liverpool in the final game, they show the opposing goalkeeper diving away from the shot. In fact, he’s not even looking at the ball!

I’ve seen this in a number of sports movies, both soccer and hockey. I can’t figure out why Hollywood can’t seem to get this part right – how hard is it to film a goalkeeper making a good effort to stop a shot and still getting beaten? This gaffe, along with the Fulham, both stick out like sore thumbs in an otherwise well-crafted movie.

Extra:  Take a look at the Beckhams interview with Ali G.


Andrew Winner is a freelance soccer writer based in Seattle, Washington. He can be reached at: andrewwinner@gmail.com


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