MIAMI — David Beckham spent most of his playing career competing against the giant clubs of England’s Premier League and Spain’s La Liga. As captain of England’s national team, he took on some of the most daunting World Cup opponents.
He now finds himself facing perhaps the most challenging opponent of his life — Miami-Dade politics.
Known for his bending free kicks, the English soccer icon is on a mission to bend stubborn minds.
As Beckham and his investment team attempt to build a privately funded $250 million waterfront stadium to house their Major League Soccer franchise, they have run into some loud opposition — the loudest from a group led by Richard Fain, CEO of Royal Caribbean. Beckham’s group is trying to figure out a polite way to react and get its message heard because Beckham has a squeaky clean global image and isn’t about to soil it in the cesspool of Miami politics.
Asked in a Miami Herald video what he has learned about Miami politics through this process, he smiled and said: “Don’t get involved.”
“We are an easy target because we aren’t going to roll up our sleeves and punch back,” Simon Fuller, Beckham’s longtime business partner/manager, said during an hour-and-a-half meeting with the Miami Herald editorial board last week (although he did, politely, punch back with a few verbal darts). Beckham and their lobbyists also spoke at the meeting.
“We have to be careful and humble,” Fuller said. “We don’t want to get into a position where the knight in shining armor is suddenly battling it out with an important local figure, saying, ‘You’re wrong. You have other agendas.’ We’re not here to have a fight and make enemies. We’re here to be welcomed and guided to the perfect location. … We don’t want to get into a negative campaign and ridiculous commercials. We can do it. We have the resources. We could all waste a lot of money and time. That’s not what we’re here for.”
Why are they fixated on the waterfront?
“The water element is logical,” Fuller said. “Miami is all about the water. It’s the most stunning city there is. I can’t think of any city more beautiful than Miami, and this iconic building should be on the water. … We want to bring something we believe will define a city for decades to come. We need it to be an iconic downtown location because it will be successful in a downtown location. History will tell you, if it’s not in downtown, it doesn’t work. We don’t want to come here and fail.”
Fuller hadn’t spoken much publicly since this project came to light last summer. On Thursday, he was particularly passionate about his love for Miami, his belief in the MLS and stadium plan, and the future of soccer in this country.
On Miami: “We love the population, the mix, the diversity, the passion for soccer. Every bit of data you read, the No. 1 city in America by population and passion for soccer is Miami. More people watched the last World Cup in Miami than any other city. We know it. We feel it. This city is ready to explode with soccer, so we have to get this right.”
He pointed to soccer stadiums in Madrid; Barcelona; Manchester, England; Buenos Aires; Munich, Germany; Seattle and Portland, Ore., as examples of venues that bring life to downtown areas.
On the critics: “When we had this kind of torrent of negativity, we were taken aback, to be honest, because all of our research, at great expense, has thrown up pretty much no negatives. That’s a little disconcerting, when you investigate a site and see it as perfect, and as you dig deeper, you find out it’s really one entity that has a problem with it. You know better than we do what the real reasons are, but they’re not for any of the reasons they put forward. It’s kind of nonsense. There is a reason beyond the facts as to why they don’t want us there.”
On being outsiders: “We don’t live in Miami, although I’ll be here in two seconds once this is done. I love this place, and David, too. I’m not presumptuous enough to know all the politics, but I’m smart enough to know we cannot as a community let the self-interest of individuals or corporations dominate something that will benefit the city. We’re talking about sport, a stadium for the people, not some corporate plan. We can’t have people shunt us around, saying, ‘We love it, but you can’t go here because I’d rather build an office building here.’ We have to make the right decision for generations to come. That requires a little bit of circumspect, a little bit of vision.”
On possible traffic congestion: “The great event, cultural or sport, where the population of a great city gather to celebrate and have fun, just by mere definition, attracts people, which in turns attracts traffic. Is someone in Rio lobbying to close Carnival because too many people enjoy it? Are people in Munich going to close down one of the greatest new stadiums in the world because two teams play there, there are too many games, and people are too happy? Are they going to close down the Birnebau, most iconic stadium in the world, because it’s right slap bang in the middle of Madrid, because two to three hours it’s party time, and a few cars wouldn’t be able to go sailing through the streets?
“It’s a bizarre conversation. If this is successful and the people love it, and crowds come, that’s going to bring us problems? Isn’t that a great problem to have?”
Yes, it is. Anybody who has experienced the ambiance of a true soccer crowd knows it would be worth a few extra minutes snarled in traffic. Will Beckham be able to bend minds and net his goal? We’re about to find out.