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Coming to America

Beckham will play for MLS' L.A. Galaxy in $250M deal

Posted: Thursday January 11, 2007 10:19AM; Updated: Thursday January 11, 2007 8:10PM
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David Beckham is perhaps the most recognizable soccer player in the world.
David Beckham is perhaps the most recognizable soccer player in the world.
Simon Bruty/SI
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LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Bend this, TomKat and Brangelina: Becks 'n' Posh are coming to Hollywood.

And David Beckham didn't even have to audition to become the next American Idol.

The most recognized soccer player on the planet -- fashion icon, tabloid fixture, marketing giant -- announced a deal Thursday to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

"David Beckham is a global sports icon who will transcend the sport of soccer in America," gushed Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber.

Bringing free kicks, glitz and his Spice Girl wife, Beckham is leading another British invasion, hoping to do for American soccer what the Beatles once did for pop music -- make it rock.

"There are so many great sports in America," the 31-year-old former England captain said. "There are so many kids that play baseball, American football, basketball. But soccer is huge all around the world apart from America, so that's where I want to make a difference with the kids."

Beckham turned down a two-year contract extension from Spanish team Real Madrid, where his fading skills left him on the bench.

The Galaxy didn't say exactly what they'll pay him, but floated a figure of $250 million in salary and commercial endorsements over the five years of his contract. In other words, his move could be worth $1 million a week.

Los Angeles opens its season April 8 in Houston, but Beckham is not expected to join the team until August. His four-year contract with Madrid expires at the end of this season.

He'll start for the Galaxy and could enter a whole new universe: His deal was negotiated over 10 days by major entertainment industry players Simon Fuller, creator of American Idol, and Creative Artists Agency, home to some of Hollywood's biggest actors.

Fuller manages both Beckham and his pop star wife, Victoria -- whose pal Katie Holmes (and her husband Tom Cruise) are represented by CAA.

Victoria Beckham hasn't hidden her desire to launch a Hollywood career.

"It's not lost on them that it's the entertainment capital of the world and they know many people in the entertainment industry here," said Tim Leiweke, president and chief executive officer of Galaxy owner AEG and a personal friend of the couple.

The Beckhams should fit in just fine in LA. He opened a soccer academy at the Galaxy's stadium complex last year, and she was photographed house-hunting in the area. Their young sons carry headline friendly monikers: Brooklyn and Romeo.

Draws paparazzi like movie stars, Beckham and his wife regularly find their way onto tabloid and magazine covers. With trendy clothes and rotating hair colors and styles, he's the epitome of the modern celebrity-athlete.

A Bend It Like Beckham sequel, with more than just a cameo this time?

"The first thing he needs to do is get himself a part on The Simpsons," as a guest star, said Richard Laermer, a New York-based marketing expert.

Beckham's soccer skills are only part of the equation. He's David Beckham Inc., a multinational corporation with links to Pepsi, Gillette, Motorola and Adidas.

The United States is the last -- and biggest -- market where Beckham's cult of personality has few converts. A superstar whose movements have convulsed Asian capitals and helped sell millions of European tabloids has been able to walk American streets in relative anonymity.

In Los Angeles, Beckham's mandate calls for raising the profile of an average team in a soccer league that has little respect overseas and less recognition than the University of Southern California football team.

"I'm going out there to hopefully build a club and team that's got a lot of potential," Beckham said. "I think that's what excites me."

The Beckham effect was felt immediately: The Galaxy sold 1,000 new season tickets Thursday morning.

The team averages between 22,000-24,000 fans in its 27,000-seat stadium in suburban Carson, although attendance was down last season when the Galaxy missed the playoffs.

Beckham's Career Path
Years Club Country
1993-95 Manchester United England
1995 Preston North End* England
1995-03 Manchester United England
2003-07 Real Madrid Spain
2007-?? Los Angeles Galaxy U.S.
* On loan
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"They know we Latinos are filling the soccer stadiums. That's why they want to bring stars here," said Juan Munguia, a 30-year-old Mexican hotel cook. "I will go just to see Beckham."

The team is anticipating changes in its fan base, especially among women.

"He appeals to so many different people," Galaxy general manager Alexi Lalas said. "There is going to be a curiosity factor. There are going to be many people who are going to come to their first MLS and first Galaxy game to watch David Beckham."

Already in the works is a 2008 Galaxy tour of Asia, where Beckham is wildly popular. A new team logo will be unveiled this summer and the Galaxy's owner is nearing a deal to slap a prime sponsor's name on its jerseys.

"We will absolutely market the Galaxy as a global brand," said Leiweke of AEG, the sports and entertainment company whose holdings include Staples Center -- where the city's resident superstar, Kobe Bryant, plays for the Lakers.

MLS changed its rules on salary caps, clearing the way for Beckham to sign the lucrative deal. The league pays the first $400,000 of player contracts. Individual teams pick up the rest of the tab for anyone, such as Beckham, who makes more than that.

Beckham, who has failed to win any major titles in 3 1/2 seasons in Madrid, said the time was right for a change.

"I've played now for two of the biggest clubs in the world and played at the highest level for 15 years, and now I think that I need another challenge," he said.

Beckham will become the biggest star to play U.S. professional soccer since Pele and Franz Beckenbauer played in the now-defunct North American Soccer League in the 1970s.

Beckham has not found much success since he moved to Madrid in 2003 from Manchester United, where he won six league titles, two FA Cups and the Champions League title. He has no major trophies with the nine-time European Cup champions.

Beckham started only five of 25 matches for Real Madrid this season.

Back in London, not everyone was impressed by Beckham's move.

"He's rubbish," said Steve Didcott, a consultant mulling the deal from a pub. "And if you're rubbish, you go to the States."

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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