After a long quiet period, David Beckham last week revealed that his group of investors in a Miami Major League Soccer team is "pretty close to announcing certain things and then the stadium will come after that." Rumors are that Beckham and his group are nearing a deal to secure a plot of land in Miami for a permanent soccer stadium. That is in the distant future, though. Where would the team play in the meantime?
Some observers have suggested playing the early season at Florida International University. But that would be a huge mistake. There's only one place MLS could play until it gets its own soccer park, and that's Sun Life Stadium.
The biggest complaint with the plan is simple: Sun Life is just too large to host MLS games, and it will look odd on television. Both are true, but that's easily fixed.
Sun Life is already decreasing the number of upper-level seats and adding lower-level seats as part of renovations this off-season. By seating fans only in the lower level and tarping the upper deck, the problem is solved. Too much seating is a long-term, not a short-term, issue for a team playing at Sun Life; being too small would be a real issue. How a game looks on television should be the least of Beckham's worries because there are much larger issues at hand -- like getting people to attend the games.
Critics say Sun Life's location would also kill attendance. But the two-year, $350 million renovation will create buzz about the new look of Sun Life. Why not capitalize on it for a new soccer franchise?
If the team played at FIU, Palm Beach and Broward fans would be shut out from the get-go. How many would drive to FIU more than the few token times early to see the team?
Imagine being a parent living in Broward with a group of kids that wants to see the new MLS franchise play. Sun Life is in an area that is easily accessible and well known to everyone in South Florida. Many who live in Miami don't understand what a person in Boca thinks when someone says, "It's at FIU's campus"; you might as tell them something is in the Keys. Does a new team want to alienate potential fans so quickly?
Last, critics point out how badly life at Sun Life went for the Miami Marlins, who begged for decades to get out before finally building their own ballpark. What the Fish lost in stadium revenue, though, they gained in Broward and Palm Beach fans who would never have made it to Little Havana. They hooked some people that are now fans for life, and now those people are more likely to drive to a more southern park. Beckham should follow that same logic, especially with a small window and a stadium that's getting a makeover at the perfect time.
Of course, the question of where FC Beckham plays in the long term is a completely different issue. Becks has land to buy, a stadium to build, and Miami taxpayers and politicians to please.
None of those issues, though, has anything to do with the team's first few years. Sun Life is being renovated, and there is an opportunity to use its new look as a bonus to the MLS hype machine. It might not last long. Many are skeptical whether soccer will survive in Miami. That's exactly why Beckham should give himself the best shot at drawing in fans.
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