On Prime Time Sports the other day, McCown and Brunt were talking about soccer, and how David Beckham is currently “on loan” from the LA Galaxy to an Italian soccer team. Now there is talk that he or the Italian team will ask the Galaxy if he can stay permanently, presumably dissolving his $20 million/year contract with MLS.
So let’s go over this: Becks signs a contract that makes him one of the highest paid athletes in the world, rivalling baseball players like Alex Rodriguez. This in a league where the minimum player salary is $11,000/year. Becks makes 15 times the salary of the second-highest-paid player in the league.
He played in MLS for one year. He was injured for much of the season and when he did play, he didn’t play very well, or at least not head and shoulders better than everyone else. His team finished tied for last overall. Then after the season, he went to Italy and has been playing like a star again, and now he may not return to the Galaxy at all.
Brunt says that the Galaxy may actually let him go, but the thing that stunned me was him saying that even if Beckham never returns to MLS, the deal was worth it because of all the publicity they got, as well as extra tickets sold and stuff. “They sold a lotta t-shirts”, Brunt says. How is the deal worth it? Sure MLS made a ton of extra money last season by signing Beckham (I’m assuming here that the extra revenue brought in last year was more than the money paid to Beckham), but what’s the long term impact? There were a lot of people who bought tickets and t-shirts last year strictly because of Beckham, and I’m sure that some of them will return as MLS fans this year even if he doesn’t come back, but I suspect that those that do return will be in the minority. ESPN has already cancelled their regular Thursday night soccer telecast because of declining ratings, and that was with Beckham in the league.
It’s all about perception. From an outsider, like me and the vast majority of North America, it looked like once Beckham got to the US, he realized how low the level of play was compared to Europe and as soon as a European club gave him a chance to play there, he bolted. If this happens, the league will look like a joke, and the MLS people will look like idiots for giving him this immense contract that turned out to be such a colossal failure that they cancelled it after only one year.
I suspect that if Becks does not return, MLS revenues next season will return to their pre-Beckham days, meaning that other than the windfall of extra cash brought in during 2008, the long-term impact of the Beckham contract was precisely zero.