Thursday, August 30, 2007

Beckham: Progress Report

It has now been almost two months since David Beckham officially joined the Los Angeles Galaxy and became a part of the MLS. Since this was easily the most newsworthy thing to happen to American league football since Pele left, I thought this would be a good time to see how things are going. Beckham’s arrival was supposed to change American soccer, and turn all of us into Football Fanatics. How’s it going so far?

The Good:

1). First and foremost, David Beckham, when he has played, has been very good. The Galaxy look like a different team when he is on the field (in other words, not awful) and Beckham himself looks like he is close to being the best player in the MLS already. Beckham’s ability to make lesser players around him look better is good for him personally and good for the MLS and American soccer as a whole.

2). David Beckham has made a lot of people (including himself) lots and lots of money in the few weeks he has been over here. Reportedly, the LA Galaxy has already earned back his salary on shirt sales alone. One would hope this would encourage other MLS owners to bring big stars over to play in the U.S.

3). David Beckham has brought a lot of attention to the game, just as everyone thought he would. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and has been responsible for tons and tons of ticket sales. When he has played, people seem to really enjoy watching him. His beautiful free kick against D.C. United is an iconic moment that played on sports reports across the country, something that doesn’t happen to often in America.

4). By all accounts, Beckham is a nice person who treats everybody with kindness and decency. He is as good an ambassador for the game as one could find.

The Bad:

1). He has been injured. A lot. He missed his first few games because of injury, came back in fits and starts, injured himself again, flew to England and played 90 minutes for the national team, injured himself again, and then finally seriously injured himself again last night playing in a silly tournament concocted to pit MLS teams against Mexican clubs. Any publicity momentum from his signing is long gone; America has turned its attention elsewhere, and the MLS may have a hard time getting it back.

2). Beckham’s selectivity in deciding where to play has been disappointing. He played in Washington, D.C. (which has natural turf) then claimed he was “injured” again for the New England Revolution game, which has artificial turf. He was remarkably healed again in time to play the New York Red Bulls the next week. He later disappointed fans the same way in Colorado. Doing this has earned him more detractors than he probably needs.

3). Beckham’s intense dedication to the English national team is admirable, but in doing so he has made the MLS (and by extension their fans) seem as if they are far less important to him. For example, Beckham flew 4,000 miles to play in an absolutely meaningless friendly in London. He then flies 4,000 miles back to L.A. to play a club game the next day, seemingly to prove how dedicated he is to his club. Doing this, of course, caused him to miss his next game, and probably led to his extended absence due to injury now. He should not have gone to England, as much as he wanted to. This may be the moronic Steve McClaren’s fault more than Beckham’s, but he is still left alienating American fans.

The Ugly:

I’ve written about this before, but the ugliest situation of all is how the MLS and the American clubs have tried to greedily cash in on the Beckham phenomenon with little regard for their own fans. Obviously, the MLS and teams in the league have been advertising Beckham’s arrival as bigger than anything that has happened to the MLS, and forcing their customers to pay for this “event.” As an example, consider what the Revolution did. I am most familiar with what the New England Revolution, as I am a season ticket holder. If one wanted to buy a ticket to the Beckham game (which was massively hyped by the Revs, who advertised Come See David Beckham, one had to purchase tickets to four games. Then, when Beckham announced he would not play (in retrospect, he was not as injured, probably, as he claimed) the Revs sanctimoniously announced that one buys a ticket to “see a team, not one person” which was entirely contrary to their advertising campaign throughout the season. To top it off, Beckham took the field in a tracksuit and most people in attendance (including myself) hoped he would play as a sub. The home announcer never let on that Beckham wouldn’t play, forcing the sell-out crown to stay, presumably to buy more beer and hot dogs.

I’m not picking on the Revs alone here. They have been undeniably sleazy by cashing in at the expense of gullible fans, but virtually every other club (and especially the Galaxy) has done the same. Beckham is largely uninvolved in this, but if he fully understood what was being done in his name, perhaps he would be less enthusiastic about the MLS.

The Grade (so far)

Beckham is a great player who has looked good when he has played. But it hasn’t been enough, and all the momentum from earlier this summer is lost. By cashing in with little regard for their fans, the MLS has looked exactly like the image it is trying to change: a small-time league pretending to be the big-time. Perhaps next year, which is probably the next time we will see David Beckham in a Galaxy shirt, they will get it right.

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