Major League Soccer moved a step closer to returning to South Florida on Wednesday, when David Beckham confirmed he has exercised his option to purchase a Major League Soccer expansion franchise in Miami. The deal will be finalized when the former English national team captain can secure a financing plan and location for a new stadium.
Beckham hopped onto the stage, his back to sparkling Biscayne Bay, and a pack of photographers jostled for position as soccer fans cheered and chanted.
"Thank you for the warm welcome," Beckham said on a sunny, 80-degree February morning. In this case, it was soccer weather.
Slideshow: David Beckham
Beckham attended the news conference with MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez to discuss their progress.
"This is an exciting time, and something we're really looking forward to bringing to Miami," Beckham told a crowd of more than 300 people, who attended the news conference at a downtown museum plaza.
Beckham has scouted possible stadium sites and is seeking investors to assist with startup costs such as construction and player acquisitions. Among those who might become involved is Beckham's friend LeBron James, who has had recent conversations with the retired soccer star about bringing a team to Miami.
"We don't want public funding," Beckham said to applause. "We will fund the stadium ourselves. We have worked very hard to get to this stage where we can fund the stadium ourselves. We want to create a football club that is the people's football club."
Beckham, looking the part of a businessman in a suit and tie, said the stadium will be downtown. Gimenez — who at one point referred to Beckham as "Beckman" — said there's political support for a stadium plan.
The former Manchester United, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Los Angeles Galaxy and Paris Saint-Germain star has the right to an expansion team at a discount fee of $25 million. MLS's Miami Fusion played in Fort Lauderdale from 1998-01 before folding because of poor attendance.
The crowd at the news conference included chanting fans, and several dozen photographers who jostled for pictures.
"People here love this sport," Garber said. "We together have no doubt it will be a very successful MLS team."
Among those who might become involved is Beckham's friend LeBron James, who has had recent conversations with the retired soccer star about bringing a team to Miami.
"I'm happy to have a really good relationship with Beckham and other guys that are a part of it, so we'll see what happens," James said.
On Tuesday night, Beckham made his first public push to bring a new team to Miami, with an invitation-only party for business executives and community leaders.
"I believe that MLS is trying to get to know the people in this community and introduce themselves to the some of the people who have the power to make some decisions," said Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
Beckham's first choice for a 25,000 seat stadium is a county waterfront parcel at the port. That poses concerns with some commissioners that may be hard to get over.
"It is a very exciting time for myself and exciting time to be welcomed into a city like this," said Beckham. "Tomorrow is going to be a good day."
Beckham said he is very comfortable in Miami and feels "at home already."
"It's a special place. I am looking forward to spending a lot more time here," Beckham said. "It is very lovely to be welcomed by so many people and so many people want to help with the whole project. It was a really lovely evening."
When asked why Miami and why he thinks it will be a great atmosphere for the soccer team, Beckham said he saw the feeling and the atmosphere around the city while being in Miami for the Miami Heat playoffs.
"I saw the passion for the people for sport...the passion that the American public have for sport in general," said Beckham. "I am really looking forward to the announcement tomorrow. It's an exciting time obviously, hopefully, for the MLS and myself and obviously, and being welcomed to Miami like I've been welcomed is unbelievable. Thank you to everybody."
Though no public money will pay to build the stadium, there will be public land rental terms, and at the state level -- will the team be eligible for a sales tax subsidy like other franchises? Miami business leaders among private soccer investors.
At Tuesday's invitation-only party at the Arsht Center, where Beckham and his group drummed up support for the team, there were other big names and star athletes.
Former Miami Heat player Alonzo Mourning said he was enthusiastic about the prospect of a major league soccer team. But he'll leave any financing of the project to others.
"No, I wouldn't be interested in partnering, but I'll definitely buy season tickets," Mourning said.
"I've seen the feeling (in Miami)," Beckham said. "I've seen the atmosphere around the city, especially being here for playoffs last year for the Heat, and I saw the passion of the people for the sport. Being welcomed into Miami is an unbelievable honor, so thank you to everybody."