Bend It, Spend It. Beckham’s Here

Discussion
Jan 26, 2007

By George Anderson

By most accounts, David Beckham’s soccer (football, if you prefer) skills have deteriorated. That appears to be of little concern for the Los Angeles Galaxy franchise and Major League Soccer that plan to showcase Mr. Beckham in yet another bid to bring the sport to the American masses.

The question is whether what amounts to a $250 million gamble (Mr. Beckham’s deal) will work?

“It’s risky. But there’s always a risk when so much is riding on an individual, when everything is centered around the brand of one person,” Lisa Bolton, marketing professor at Wharton told Knowledge@Wharton. “But the thing about Beckham is that he can cut through the clutter. The team doesn’t have to feature him with its own advertisements in order to raise awareness of soccer. And he is already making headlines in entertainment news. It’s a good fit for sports as entertainment, particularly L.A. entertainment.”

Wharton marketing professor David J. Reibstein said, “We have been talking about soccer exploding since Pele. It didn’t happen. Then came the Olympics; they are on the map for a week and then the Olympics end. So this is a bet: If we get the most visible and attractive player in the sport, maybe, just maybe this will catapult soccer into something huge.”

Kenneth L. Shropshire, Wharton professor of legal studies and business ethics, expressed some skepticism, but added, “These are very savvy people leading the MLS. I’m certain it’s a strategic move, but one – and this is from the commissioner – that is not meant to be the magic bullet that turns things around and makes soccer as popular in the U.S. as it is in the rest of the world. It is part of an apparent strategy. And Beckham is probably the one global name in soccer. Even if you don’t know soccer, you know Beckham.”

Dave Checketts, the owner of Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer (MLS), told Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo on WFAN in New York earlier this month that soccer’s popularity in the U.S. will be aided by Mr. Beckham, but is not dependent on him.

“I think the fact that the country is changing as much as it is with so many international people emigrating and having children here, I think this sport is about to become a major part of American culture,” he said.

Mr. Checketts, who also owns the St. Louis Blues hockey team, referenced the PBS documentary Generation Next to further his argument.

“These are kids, 16 to 25 in the U.S., and guess what? One out of five have a parent that was born outside the U.S. And, one out of eight of this generation was himself or herself born outside the U.S. So, these are kids that love soccer.”

Discussion Questions: What will David Beckham mean to soccer in the U.S. and companies that use his image to promote products? What will be the associated opportunities be at retail? Will the Beckham phenomenon, if there is one, be limited to southern California or will it be national?

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14 Comments on "Bend It, Spend It. Beckham’s Here"


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Craig Sundstrom
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

From Wikipedia:

“After the 1972 season (his 17th with Santos), Pelé retired from Brazilian club football. Two years later, he signed with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League for the 1975 season. Though then past his prime, Pelé is credited with significantly increasing public awareness and interest in soccer in the United States. He led the Cosmos to the 1977 NASL championship, in his third and final season with the club.

On 1 October 1977, Pelé closed out his legendary career in front of a capacity crowd at Giants Stadium. In an exhibition match televised nationwide and worldwide….”

Pelé: remember him? (And not to make anyone feel old, but he’s now 66)…. Beckham’s impact will be about the same.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 3 months ago
I want to clarify that I think soccer is a very demanding and athletic sport. Obviously, like any sport, in order to be good at it you must be very athletic. However from my experience, soccer is a more inclusive sport which accepts a more diverse group of athletes. My son played travel league hockey and it was similar. While he was quite good at it, I’m sure he would have preferred to just as good and successful in a sport that paid off a little better financially or socially. At any major university, most students can probably name at least half of the basketball players on the school’s team. Ask them to name some soccer players. Does a recap of the soccer match even show up in the sports page? Does anyone remember Xuxa? At one time I think she had more name recognition than any other entertainer in the world. For seven years, Xou da Xuxa, her daily program on Globo, was a fixture on television. Children all over the Latin America watched… Read more »
Mike Blackburn
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Soccer careers of most American youths ends with the varsity high school team. Despite the prevalence of players in the States these days (I’d wager more kids play soccer now than football and baseball combined), the sport is still dominated by international players when it comes to the collegiate level. No matter how many goals little Johnny Smith scored in high school, most likely his spot at state college will be filled by a recruit from south of the border or even Africa these days. And therefore, the story ends.

P.S. Even an avid soccer player will tell you, it’s a boring sport to watch. Perhaps as boring as baseball, but baseball is more of a cultural institution with its history in the U.S.

Mary Baum
Guest
Mary Baum
15 years 3 months ago

It seems to me that soccer is pretty much always going to be a sport people play more than they watch.

Here in largely Catholic St. Louis, kids have been playing soccer for so long that people refer to the sport as the eighth sacrament. Now that public- and independent-school kids play it too, soccer is bigger than ever.

But even St. Louis hasn’t made a go of pro soccer–not consistently.

Beckham is in L.A., where the established pro sports don’t necessarily capture the heart and soul of the area, and where there’s a lot of competition for the entertainment dollar.

It may help financially that MLS is a single entity across the league, but I think that pro sports are fundamentally about supporting the home team. If nobody cares which team wins, why buy a ticket?

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Beckham will mean as much to U.S. soccer as perhaps Payton Manning does to NFL Europe. I’m going to guess, not much. Soccer has gained popularity in the U.S. If I had to guess, more kids play soccer in the U.S. than any other sport. It has given kids a chance to play a sport who aren’t athletic enough to play football or basketball. However soccer does not have the same appeal as the sports people will pay big dollars to go watch, wager on, or view on television during prime time. The soccer generation has grown up but stadiums are empty. I’ve gone to some indoor league games; the tickets are only a few dollars and there are plenty of empty seats. I don’t think soccer will catch on in the U.S. because it is not violent or entertaining enough for our culture. The Beckham image will probably be used to promote products geared toward young children, where soccer is the most popular.

Santiago Vega
Guest
Santiago Vega
15 years 3 months ago

David Beckham will add some visibility to soccer around the country, especially during his first season here, but it will basically be hype without real substance behind it. If he doesn’t perform well on the field (and he won’t, at least not in the way people expect a $250 million player to), ticket sales, shirt sales, sponsorships and licensing agreements will start to drop dramatically as they did after Beckham’s first season at Real Madrid, not to mention [angering] many Real Madrid fans.

With all the celebrity status the media is building around him, he will influence young American kids wanting to get into soccer, but he certainly won’t determine that those new recruits stick with the sport during the length of his 5 year contract.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Having been in California when the announcement was made, I have to say the publicity was sceptical, to put it mildly. I am bemused by so many media references over the past few year to “soccer moms” because none of the Americans I know has a child the least bit interested in the sport. Even if kids were interested, the initial media coverage I saw was about Beckham as potential film star having to earn megabucks to support Victoria’s passion for shopping and keeping up with Katie Holmes. There was also a lot about his friendship with Tom Cruise, raising further question marks about his sanity. Somehow I don’t see him playing an Ambassador to the Game role with the least bit of success.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Charismatic players are great marketing assets. When Pele came to the U.S., soccer was helped tremendously. Furthermore, a close reading of the “$250 million” price indicates great pr at work. The money at risk doesn’t seem to be $250 million, since (1) the price is spread over 5 years and (2) the figure includes estimated royalties. Royalties have to be earned, since they’re based on sales. So it seems that David Beckham is taking part of the risk.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
Carol Spieckerman
15 years 3 months ago

Scooooorrrreeeee one for the MLS! Across the globe, David Beckham is a footballer who has become a phenomenal celebrity, while in the U.S., he’s a celebrity who happens to play soccer. And, in the land of movie star dreams, he even has a movie with his name in the title–it just doesn’t get better than this.

This is a great play to, not only attract soccer fans but also the same curious celebrity watchers that go to NBA games just to see Jack Nicholson. In terms of retail, his status as a fashion and entertainment icon portends of a licensing revenue windfall. All of this makes him (at the very least) a quadruple threat. He may not be the great footballer he once was; however, I for one would pay to see him play and I would say that the MLS has already earned back their $250 million.

Robert Straub
Guest
Robert Straub
15 years 3 months ago

I think most people are missing the point. This isn’t about David Beckham wanting to be an ambassador and raising the profile of soccer in America. It’s about Becks and Posh wanting to live in L.A. and raising their own profile in America for his post-soccer acting career.

Linda Bender
Guest
Linda Bender
15 years 3 months ago
Since I’m a “Soccer Mom” and have been for about 9 years now, I would like to state a couple things. First off, it’s not a sport where the child is not “good enough” to play football, basketball, etc. It is one of the most physical and challenging sports available to play. My son has played soccer since he was three and has a life goal to be the “next Beckham.” He is now draining my checking account to pay for his Select Soccer up to $2300 a season. He is also one of the first chosen A Team players to make the teams at his middle school due to his speed, kicking strengths, and control thinking process. All which he has received from his soccer experience. I see many commercials already using the soccer themes to launch their products. Just go to one U18 game and see that there are more Soccer Moms at the field than at any Mall or Grocery Store. Remember, women are the main grocery shopper! I have shopped, and… Read more »
Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
15 years 3 months ago

Beckham will bring some additional attention to soccer in America. Thats all! Posh, however, will end up on TV and maybe in the movies!

Sean Cline
Guest
Sean Cline
15 years 3 months ago
The main objective of brining Beckham to the States is to put “butts in seats” regardless of his play on the field…period. To a certain extent it does not matter how he performs on the field. The object is get more fans to games, provide some worldwide exposure to the MLS, and to bring global validity to a sport generally not considered “world class” in the United States. He is being used, and compensated very well for it, by the MLS and the companies putting his image on their packages. Beckham is a global brand, like Coke and Snickers. Granted, his brand is a little less known here in the States, but he is still a household name in the majority of American homes. Beckham will put butts in seats. I know this firsthand–all of the soccer fans I have casually spoken with regarding this event have all agreed, they are buying tickets for the game in which the L.A. Galaxy will be playing their local team. I will be sitting in the stands when… Read more »
Thomas Nygaard
Guest
Thomas Nygaard
15 years 1 month ago

MLS has it all wrong with Beckham. NASL had the same formula back in the 70s. What is needed is the EPL (English Premier League) or the Italian Serie A to invest in teams here in the states–which is beginning to happen–and make them affiliates of the major world teams. They can’t be too blind to this by the entry of Chivas last year to appeal to the Hispanic market place.

The MLS should not try to Americanize a world sport. Think global appeal for US soccer fans by being part of the best leagues in the world.

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