Twitter was set ablaze last night by soccer fans and underwear ad lovers alike, when LA Galaxy star David Beckham announced that the MLS Cup final on Dec. 1st would be his last match with the team.
In a statement from MLS Beckham said, "I've had an incredibly special time playing for the LA Galaxy, however, I wanted to experience one last challenge before the end of my playing career." He went on to say that, "I don't see this as the end of my relationship with the league as my ambition is to be part of the ownership structure in the future."
So naturally this begs the question, what is this so-called "challenge" Becks is referring to anyway? Well it's a little speculation game I like to call "Where's Beckham?" as an ode to our favorite childhood book.
First the facts.
1. Beckham is not only leaving the LA Galaxy, he is leaving MLS as a player by all accounts. I don't see a move to the Red Bulls, as some have reported, or any other team in the league simply because it doesn't make any sense. Sure it would be a challenge to fill Red Bull Arena on a regular basis, but if Henry, Cahill, and Marquez can't do it why would Becks try?
2. It is also true that the Beckham Family have been shopping for an apartment in New York City for several months now. This is important to Beckham's challenge, but not as a player. The move to NYC supports Victoria Beckham's growing career in the fashion industry and I fully expect the family to settle there for the next few years at least.
3. Beckham's ownership option in an MLS expansion franchise will most certainly be exercised at some point, but several sources linking his move to the Cosmos or the NY2 effort are incorrect. His contract specifically excludes LA and NYC franchises from the reduce ownership purchase price option.
So what's the answer?
Several sources have pointed to Austraila's A-League as the final stop in Beckham's playing career. While a return to England or another European squad would be acceptable none of them offer a challenge quite like joining the A-League. He would be the marquee name much like he was when he signed with MLS in 2007 initiating the "designated player" option which has grown from one player to three per team. The A-League's effort parallels MLS' of 2007, looking to grow the league and establish a presence on the global soccer stage.
Logistically, Beckham's move to the A-League makes a lot more sense when you look at it this way. His final match with the LA Galaxy is in two weeks, the A-League will just be entering Round 10 of their 27 match regular season. Assuming Becks takes a break for the holidays he could sign with an A-League club for $2M-3M for a 12-14 match contract through the end of the season. And that's it. No five year deal like he originally had with MLS, simply play out the season, get paid and then retire. Becks will turn 38 in May, just after the end of the A-League season, though his speed is slowed his touch on free/corner kicks would still allow him to have an impact with the league. 6 months to put the A-League on the map? That sounds like a challenge to me.
From there I fully expect him to head back to NYC which will allow his four kids to continue schooling in the US, Victoria can grow her fashion empire, and Beckham can wait for the ownership/management offers to start rolling in. While the MLS ownership option is lucrative there is no reason why he couldn't also be a board member or part owner of another club looking for exposure like Paris St-Germain or one of the oil-rich Russian clubs.
In the end "the Beckham Experiment", as Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl coined it, has been a tremendous success for the league. Discussions of the top leagues in the world now include mentions of MLS (top ten perhaps, but not top by any means). The "Beckham Date" on team schedules helped ensure additional sell-outs for teams when the Galaxy came to town. Attendance has risen by 21% league wide form 2006 to 2012 with overall attendance doubling to over 6 Million in 2012. Perhaps the biggest contribution from Beckham was not at the box office but in viewership on television and online. The deal signed with ESPN in 2006 was worth about $6M annually and was the only national network carrying the league. The league will now be carried on ESPN, NBC, and Galavision through 2014 bringing in $27M annually. This does not include the regional cable sports networks that pay smaller fees to carry their local MLS club matches. The face of the league was Beckham for several years and that face solid ads and generated vital revenue for the league.
Best of luck on your next "challenge" Becks, we only wish it was in Orlando!