Less than two months until the beginning of its inaugural season, Inter Miami is still the only team in Major League Soccer (MLS) without a sponsorship deal. But all of that could change soon. Yesterday, news surfaced that Inter Miami and co-owner David Beckham are in "high-level" discussions about making the State of Qatar the club's official sponsor. Early reactions indicate fans are none too pleased.
According to reporting by the sports website the Athletic, a top-tier sponsorship with the oil-rich monarchy is on the negotiating table. That usually means advertising on jerseys and stadium-naming rights. In other words, Florida's newest soccer team could very well play its first match of the season with Qatari logos on its kits in the newly minted QSI Stadium (named for Qatar Sports Investment, an arm of the Qatari government). The possibility, which has reportedly been under consideration for several months, drove some fans to vent on social media.
"I'll cancel my season tickets if they do this," one commenter wrote on Inter Miami's subreddit. Another remarked, "On god, if they get the kit sponsorship, I will be modifying my jersey to cover up whatever they slap on the shirt."
In a post on a larger MLS subreddit that drew more than 175 comments, the reaction was surprisingly similar. The news disappointed Inter Miami faithful and fans from various other MLS teams.
"Trying to be the most hated team in the league before walking onto the field I see. Well played David," one person commented. "I don't know how I feel about MLS being used [as] a tool for Qatar's soft diplomacy where it tries to convince everyone that they don't have horrible human rights abuses."
Reached by New Times, a spokesperson with Inter Miami declined to comment about the Athletic's reporting.
Exclusive: David Beckham in high-level talks with Qatar over Inter Miami + personal sponsorship deal. Not signed but advanced & would be top-tier (usually shirt / stadium naming rights). 4 years after Qatar investment resisted by MLS owners. @TheAthleticUK https://t.co/iMgO5piEcF— David Ornstein (@David_Ornstein) January 20, 2020
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Qatar, which will host the 2022 World Cup, has played a controversial role in the global game over the past few years by simultaneously driving huge investments into clubs overseas while ignoring serious allegations of human rights abuses and corruption at home. The result is that the Persian Gulf state's presence in the world of soccer has become anathema to many, and not just fans. The Athletic reports that various MLS team owners played a part in pushing back against a 2016 proposal by Qatar to buy a stake in Inter Miami. That proposal ultimately fell flat, but it appears there's little the league can do to stop Inter Miami from taking on Qatar as its personal sponsor.
Beckham's ties to Qatar run deep. He retired as a professional player at the Qatari-owned French superclub Paris Saint-Germain in 2013 and has maintained a close relationship with the monarchy since then, appearing at various sporting events held in the country over the years.
For Beckham, Qatar offers the deepest of pockets and a spot in an ever-growing portfolio of sports properties around the world, including sponsorship deals with household names such as F.C. Barcelona in Spain and A.S. Roma in Italy. For Qatar, Inter Miami offers a clear way to break into the MLS and build on its existing presence in the area. The Qatari-owned TV network beIN Sports, which broadcasts the Spanish soccer league La Liga and the French league Serie A, has its North American headquarters in Miami.
And for the fans? Well, based on initial reactions, a Qatar sponsorship will leave them with little more than a bad taste in their mouths and a pile of jerseys they'd rather not wear.