From the Rev: The Beckham Affect
When David Beckham first stepped foot on American soil to play for Major League Soccer, there was a division of opinion. Some said Beckham was merely the latest in a long line of world-renown footballers, past their prime, looking to make a last stab at financial gain before retirement. There were other pundits who claimed that soccer had officially made it in America and that the Beckham brand would forever change the American landscape and attitude toward a sport with a sketchy history of attraction in the U.S.A. Now, five years later, the jury may still be out on many points of the argument but there is at least one thing (there are more) from this chaplains perspective that Beckham’s arrival did for Major League Soccer. I call it “The Beckham Affect.”
Perhaps a common fan would not have paid too much notice to some of the differences of Beckham’s arrival, and to be sure the changes are minimal considering where Beckham has played before and his popularity (truly, public obsession) in other parts of the world, but after being around MLS for the last 14 years the changes were a bit more obvious. There are changes that accompany “The Beckham Affect.”
Change #1 – Tighter Security – With David Beckham walking your hallways, post-game, there was a visible change in the amount of security agents that worked MLS games. Some were uniformed, contracted off-duty officers, some were plains clothes but there were additional people brought in to make sure that there was a safe environment for the players. Additionally, people around the clubs and organizations who were “volunteer” were scrutinized heavily and many did not make the cut. To my knowledge, this had some impact on team chaplains who had been in place for several years – suddenly, they were on the outside looking in as “non-essential” people were not give the same accessibility to players, coaches, and staff.
Change #2 – Legitimacy – Beckham’s first few years were a mix of success and failure – at one point there was heavy criticism for the amount of money he was being paid for the number of minutes he was on the field and producing seemingly little results. However, last year’s MLS Cup Final win over Houston and Beckham’s subsequent return and renewed contract may have stemmed the tide of opinion against him. Beckham’s presence, though, did open the door for other, high-profile players to come and ply their trade in MLS. Although some still may view MLS as a pre-retirement destination, the league has grown in popularity and legitimacy in the years that Beckham has been in the league and looks to continue to grow in an upward trend.
Change #3 – Money – Beckham is an oft-critisized personality. Some have made fun of his seemingly un-sharp comments at times, but he has a lot of respect in terms of his personal branding and marketing. MLS has benefitted from the Beckham brand – a healthy and in-form Beckham is sure to help the local team sell out for the LA Galaxy game when the Beckham show hits the road and this means people in the seats to see the world-famous star. General Managers like to have their stadiums fill to capacity.
I will leave it to the experts to decide whether “The Beckham Affect” has been good for the league. It may take a few years or more after Beckham’s eventual retirement to make such a decision, but talks of Beckham buying into the league and owning a team may mean that the world-famous athlete decides to put a bigger imprint and legacy on the “New World” soccer league, as it were. But let me give one other consideration for your thoughts – the reverse of “The Beckham Affect.”
While we can speculate about how David Beckham has impacted MLS and the North American soccer scene, there is something telling in the decision this offseason to stay with the LA Galaxy and keep his family in the US. I have heard from many football players and coaches down through the years that the US is a great place to raise a family – and this attraction and appeal seemed to weigh heavily upon the Beckham’s decision according to many different sources. And for those of you who know about chaplaincy and our work around professionals, this might be a great opportunity – to influence a world influencer and his family. To care for them, in a way perhaps they have never have experienced in any other club on the planet. As chaplains, we can only continue to work hard to effect “The Beckham Affect.”
Rev. Brad Kenney