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Saturday, September 1, 2007

Air Beckham Grounded

David Beckham was significantly injured on Thursday night during the SuperLiga final against Pachuca of Mexico. Most likely, his season in MLS will be finished. Let us examine his impact, along with the behavior of the league and its prime broadcasting outlets, ESPN and Telefutura, respectively.

Beckham's arrival was met with tremendous enthusiasm and media exposure. He was front-page news in North America for most of the month of July.

The Recent Knee Injury

According to the veteran soccer journalist Grahame Jones of the LA Times:

"It means that Beckham's first MLS season is essentially over, after playing only 310 minutes in six games at a guaranteed salary of $6.5 million a year."

Let's see. That equates to about $20,968 per minute. Or, $1.1 million per game. Not bad work if you can get it. Along with those nice Hugo Boss custom made suits. ;-)

The Galaxy has won only one game, against DC United in the SuperLiga semi-finals that took place in Carson, California, when Beckham actually appeared in a game. Record crowds appeared in Washington (he played in the second half), New Jersey (he played the entire game), and in New England (he sat on the bench).

"Now that Beckham is sidelined, the ramifications extend far and wide.

Planned exhibition matches with Beckham and the Galaxy have been scheduled in Canada and Australia. In Vancouver, 45,000 tickets have been sold for an Oct. 3 exhibition and the opening page on the Vancouver Whitecaps' website includes the message 'Beckham is coming' and a countdown clock clicking off the days, hours, minutes and seconds until he arrives."

Not to mention the 8 games in September, along with 4 in October, that will take place during MLS play. What Mr. Jones failed to note was that many teams in the MLS had been selling "packages" of tickets. For example, if you wanted to see Beckham, you had to buy tickets to see other games. And contrary to what Mr. Lalas has been telling us, fans are not coming out to see anyone else on his team.

If Becks does not appear in Vancouver, they may refund the price of the tickets. The MLS has refused to entertain such a policy.

Merchandising Sales

"Since Beckham's arrival, soccer merchandise sales have skyrocketed by 300% league-wide and by 700% for the Galaxy and already the team's white or blue jerseys with Beckham's name and his number 23 have become fashionable in Los Angeles."

Profitable and fashionable, without a doubt. Beckham is a global brand that has boosted the entire league. But those merchandising sales omit a key factor. They represent sales to many outlets around the country and world. They don't represent actual final sales to consumers. Perhaps in time they will.

Appearances on ESPN and Telefutura

His much anticipated and promoted initial appearance against Chelsea FC was promoted as the Second Coming. He made an appearance, to his credit (and to allay the fears of ESPN and the sold out Home Depot Center), in the last fifteen minutes of the game. Then the guessing game began, as tickets were sold to see him, either on the bench, and preferably, on pitches. Without gridiron stripes...

For the three nationally televised games by ESPN (Chelsea, DC United, and Chivas USA), Beckham made an appearance. He miraculously flew back from London to play last Thursday's game against Chivas. This was not the case with Telefutura during the SuperLiga or MLS games. Either by design or due to the extent of his initial ankle injury, he was in the luxury box or the team bench during the first group games against Chivas and Pachuca. He didn't appear with the team in Dallas. In MLS competition, he appeared on the bench in Toronto (Hugo Boss suit) and New England (in team kit), but did not play. He played superbly against DC United in the SuperLiga, had a stellar performance against NYRB, and overall, showed Americans his quality, determination, and humility. It was not his fault to arrive with an injury, nor how his arrival was handled by club, league, and media.

Here is what the Galaxy did after Beckham arrived:

21 July Chelsea FC on ESPN: 0 x 1 loss. He played the last 15 minutes.
24 July Pachuca on Telefutura: 2 x 1 win. He watched from a luxury box.
28 July CD Chivas on Telefutura: 1 x 2 loss. He was on the bench in team kit.
31 July FC Dallas on Telefutura: 5 x 6 win. He did not make the trip.
05 August Toronto FC on Telefutura: 0 x 0 draw. He was on the bench in a business suit.
09 August DC United on ESPN: 1 x 0 loss. His first MLS appearance of about 20 minutes.
12 August New England Revolution on Telefutura: 1 x 0 loss. He appeared on the bench in team kit, but was not listed as available.
15 August DC United on Telefutura: 1 x 0 win. His first start, he scored a goal, had an assist, and played the entire game.
18 August NY Red Bulls on Fox Soccer Channel: 4 x 5 loss. He played the entire game and had 3 assists.
23 August Chivas USA on ESPN: 0 x 3 loss. He played the entire game.
26 August Colorado Rapids on Telefutura: 0 x 3 loss. He did not make the trip.
29 August Pachuca on Telefutura: 1 x 1 AET: Pachuca won on penalties, 3 x 4. He played the first 30 minutes before his injury.

When Beckham didn't appear in Colorado, David Ramsey of the Colorado Springs Gazette had the following opinion:

"The Colorado Rapids sold 18,500 tickets to fans yearning to watch one of the biggest names in the game play Sunday night. So what did Beckham do? He insulted every one of them by staying at his $22 million mansion in Beverly Hills.

Before Sunday’s game, Galaxy president Alexi Lalas called the SuperLiga final 'one of the biggest games' in the Galaxy’s history and declined to offer apologies to Colorado fans. 'It’s unfortunate,' he said of his team’s ridiculously depleted state.

It’s much more than unfortunate."

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