MIAMI — Phase one of David Beckham's plan to boost the visibility and viability of Major League Soccer involved the international star's leaving the pitches of Europe and joining the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007. Consider this phase two.
Beckham, who retired in 2013, announced Wednesday that he would be exercising his long-held option to buy into an MLS franchise in Miami, whose last pro soccer team, the Miami Fusion, disbanded in 2001.
"I'm going to work hard for this city and this team," said Beckham, 39, dressed in a crisp grey suit in the wilting Miami humidity. "Everything I do is personal, and I want to make this my team."
Beckham was joined for the announcement at the Perez Art Museum by MLS commissioner Don Garber and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Both men have been in talks for months with Beckham and his financial partners, British entertainment mogul Simon Fuller and Bolivian billionaire Marcelo Claure.
A Miami franchise would add to league's current roster of 19 U.S. and Canadian teams. Two new franchises – Orlando City FC and New York City FC – will join the league in 2015. The yet-to-be-named Miami team likely wouldn't start competing until the 2016 season.
The first order of significant business for Beckham and local officials is to choose a location for a soccer-specific stadium, which would be funded by the new owners, who will be seeking additional investors.
"We will fund the stadium," Beckham said to roars from local soccer fans who packed the outdoor press conference. "And we'd like it to be downtown. Soccer fans love to walk to games, that's part of the tradition."
Beckham said he's been inspired by the culture of winning surrounding the Miami Heat, as well as the passion surrounding the Seattle Sounders, an MLS team whose fans have shattered attendance records, averaging 44,308 per game in 2013.
Gimenez added that Miami officials are "in a time crunch to identify the site."
The possible downtown stadium news thrilled Mitchell Torres, 41, a longtime fan of Miami's last soccer team.
"It needs to be central, so that's great," he said. "With David's celebrity panache, connections and commit to soccer at all levels down to his (coaching) academies, I'm confident we'll become a global brand. This news is better than good, it's great."
Garber called the news "historic, the first time an ex-athlete is joining the ownership ranks as managing partner of a soccer team. … David's showing that he came to this country not to retire, but to inspire and leave a lasting impact."
And why Miami?
"Why not?" quipped Beckham as a plane flew overhead tugging a political message reading "Beckham don't trust Gimenez."
"But seriously, I wanted to create a team from scratch," Beckham said. "I want everything to be top notch. From the players to the coaches to the background staff."
Beckham declined to say whether he had any specific players in mind for his team, but, gesturing at the sparkling waterway behind him, dotted with palm trees, he added that he's gotten calls. "They say, 'Miami? How do I get there?'" Beckham joked.
If there's one thing in the former player's corner in this venture, it's first-hand experience with the league he's about the join as management.
"The approach here is certainly, 'If you built it, they (the fans) will come,'" said former Galaxy general manager Alexi Lalas, who was instrumental in bringing Beckham to the league in 2007.
"To have this sort of backing from a financial and personality perspective is a great start. David's background in the league also helps, he understands the unique parts that can be frustrating."
Beckham's remarkable commercial success in arenas far beyond soccer – his latest venture, pitching underwear for H&M, was showcased in a cheeky ad during the Super Bowl – may increase the odds of a new Miami soccer team's success.
"He has an amazing brand, and this team's success or lack of it will reflect back on that, which David knows," Lalas said. "That'll provide good pressure to make sure this venture provides a quality product all the way around."