MIAMI >> David Beckham finally has his Major League Soccer team in Miami.
Beckham and MLS announced today that the long-awaited franchise is now born. It took Beckham nearly four years just to get this far with Miami, and there’s a slew of details still to come — such as the team name, logo and when it will start play.
All that can wait. Soccer, at long last, is back in Miami.
“Welcome, Miami,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said.
The team will play in a 25,000-seat, privately funded stadium to be built in the city’s Overtown neighborhood, designed by a firm that has worked on several MLS venues in recent years. Part of the deal also is that Beckham’s group will build a training center and an academy focused on developing local players.
“Our pledge to our fans in Miami and around the world is simple: your team will always strive to make you proud on the pitch, our stadium will be a place that you cherish visiting, and our impact in the community and on South Florida’s youth will run deep,” Beckham said.
Monday’s event — more pep rally than news conference, with a few hundred fans in attendance and a red carpet interview area snaking through the media room — was intentionally benign in many respects. The MLS logo for all the signage had a black background, with the word “Miami” printed below it in white.
“Great things come to those that wait,” Garber said, noting that Miami fans have been emailing him for 10 years with hopes of MLS coming back to South Florida. The Miami area had an MLS team from 1998 through 2001, one that folded largely because of poor attendance.
It has been a long road just to get to this point. In the beginning of this Beckham-Miami plan, some people involved in the talks predicted that the team would begin play in 2017.
The 2020 season might even be a challenge now. But it is coming.
Momentum truly started building last spring, when Miami-Dade County commissioners approved a deal to sell Beckham nearly three acres of county land for $9 million — the last parcel needed for the nine-acre site on which the planned 25,000-seat stadium will be built. MLS officials said even then they hoped to announce the team’s official inclusion into MLS last summer.
It took a few more months.
“My fellow Miamians, finally, we are here,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said. “This announcement has been a long time coming.”
The return of the Miami market to MLS is the latest chapter in the league’s steady expansion.
In 2006, there were 12 MLS clubs and the expansion fee to enter the league was $10 million. Miami becomes the 25th franchise after the addition last month of expansion Nashville — which paid a $150 million entry fee. MLS’ average attendance at matches has also risen nearly 43 percent over that 12-year span.
Beckham’s group didn’t pay anywhere near what Nashville did. As part of former English star’s playing contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy, Beckham had the right to establish an MLS franchise for $25 million. He formally announced Miami as his pick in February 2014.
“We’re here because of David,” said Marcelo Claure, one of Beckham’s partners — who revealed that the plan nearly was dead two months ago, before one last push finally got the stadium deal done.