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Jan 11, 2007

Beckham signing legitimizes MLS on the world scene

The Beckham tsunami landed on Major League Soccer shores Thursday, a once-in-a-lifetime lightning strike that promises to significantly inflate ticket sales, publicity and general awareness in the 12-year-old operation.

News that the illustrious David Beckham has joined MLS is easily the most significant announcement in or around the league since Alan Rothenberg and his money men first revealed details of the operation prior to its 1996 launch.

"This is a huge step forward for the league, that we can attract someone of that stature means so much," New England Revolution coach Steve Nicol said.

Beckham's departure from global heavyweight Real Madrid and subsequent presence in America is certain to deliver an unrivaled wave of publicity not just for MLS, but for domestic soccer generally. This side of a highly implausible U.S. World Cup championship, nothing could even come close to creating such buzz.

Freddy Adu's trade, by far the most high profile personnel swap in MLS history, merited just a small headline or even less in most U.S. dailies.

By comparison, Beckham's signing, announced late Thursday morning, will generate large-type headlines throughout the world. And it will expose the league to people and places that otherwise wouldn't know Major League Soccer from a major motion picture.

"Beckham is global," Real Salt Lake coach John Ellinger said, "LA will have the chance to go play in other countries and have other opportunities, and the rest of us will hopefully try to do the same thing."

Beckham's value in terms of raw ticket sales can't be overstated. One MLS official, when alerted of Beckham's signature, immediately scratched two matches off his 2007 "worry" list in terms of selling seats.

He knew two sellouts are all but guaranteed (when the Galaxy comes to town) without the club's sales staff breaking much of a sweat.

Every MLS general manager and sales director immediately reached for the 2007 schedule (still unofficial) to see which club would be lucky enough to land the former England captain's debut match in August.

(That, by the way, surely will be the toughest ticket ever in MLS history, far pricier on the street than any previous MLS Cup match or All-Star contest. Imagine that: MLS is suddenly prominent on every serious ticket scalper's radar.)

Nor can the midfielder's value in terms of publicity be overestimated. A day before the signing, at the mere whisper of Beckham possibly inching closer to joining MLS, league spokesman Dan Courtemanche was besieged with queries from domestic and foreign media.

Courtemanche says he previously was alerted that, if Beckham were to sign with MLS, SNTV would file a daily report, available worldwide, from wherever the ballyhooed Englander landed. (Think of SNTV as a sort of global, electronic version of the Associated Press.)

New England's Nicol also suggested that Beckham's signature on an MLS contract can help attract younger, aspiring Beckhams to join the 13-team league. He says MLS just became a more attractive, viable option for the world's A-plus young talent.

"Younger players are going to be more willing to look at the league now," Nicol said. "And when one does it, others are more willing to try it after that. Hopefully, there are more Beckhams to come."

Nicol also said Beckham can raise the standard of league play. Not because he's so singularly talented, but because of the ripple effect.

"Everybody is going to be giving their all every single time on the field against David Beckham," he said. "So, every game will be more competitive. The league is very competitive anyway, and if it's possible, will get even more so."

Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.