It’s been a while since Miami’s sports scene has had a superstar to call its own.
Now – in the span of under two weeks – we’ve got two of them, with Dwyane Wade returning to the Miami Heat after a two-year hiatus and Major League Soccer awarding David Beckham and his partners the soccer club they’ve been patiently waiting for.
We all know what D-Wade will do as the Heat’s leader on and off the court. He’s helped bring three championships to our city and has been a familiar face in the community since the earliest days of his career. His departure from Miami in 2016 never sat well with fans; his homecoming ‘feels right.’ Order has been restored to Heat Nation.
Perhaps even more exciting is what the Beckham-led soccer team will mean for Miami.
Major League Soccer formally granted Miami a club during a packed event at the Adrienne Arsht Center on January 29th. Impassioned fans, elected officials, and members of the Miami community gathered to hear first-hand from League officials, Beckham, and his partners: Miami business leaders Jorge and Jose Mas, Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, SoftBank Chairman Masayoshi Son and entertainment mogul Simon Fuller.
The energy at the launch event was intense. The speeches were emotional. The media was out in full force – with more than 250 international journalists in attendance.
Beckham talked about his vision for the new club, what he’s learned since announcing his dream of bringing a club to Miami in 2014, and how he hopes to make an impact on the city.
Here are takeaways that we picked up after sitting in on countless interviews during the launch:
- We’re already a soccer city: Miami is America’s top international soccer-viewing market and soccer fields across town are jam-packed on nights and weekends. Maybe it’s our high concentration of Latin Americans and Europeans, or the year-round playing weather, but one thing is for sure: we know the difference between football and fútbol.
- MLS has evolved since its first South Florida stint: It’s been 17 years since the Miami Fusion last took the field. In that span, MLS has grown more competitive and more popular. Soccer is now the #2 watched sport in the US among 18-34 year-olds, behind only football and tied with basketball. Average MLS attendance is up more than 50% in a decade; players are getting younger; and stadiums are welcoming sold-out crowds.
- Miami has changed quite a bit, too: New residents, new neighborhoods, new transit systems and more. Miami looks and feels very different than it did in 2001. Young, urban, international, and diverse, Miami is the largest U.S. city without an MLS club. It’s no wonder why Beckham set his sights on Miami from day one, never backing away from the idea through four years of ups and downs.
- This will be a global club in every sense: With owners hailing from four continents and business interests in just about every country on earth, this Club will be a catalyst for advancing MLS’ long-held goal of becoming one of the world’s top leagues. The owners plan to enlist talent from abroad and international players and celebrities are lining up to get on the bandwagon. Just ask Tom Brady, Serena Williams, Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr., J-Lo, Will Smith and others who congratulated Beckham and his crew.
- The team will also put down deep local roots: If anyone knows the transformative role that a soccer academy can have in the lives of children, it’s Beckham, who entered Manchester United’s training program as a teenager and went on to play for some of world’s top clubs. The Miami owners believe South Florida is a hotbed of untapped players, and they’re planning a state-of-the-art facility that will help groom that talent.
- Fans will be engaged from now to kick-off: Supporters in Miami and beyond have been loyal to Beckham in the face of uncertainty about the club’s future, and now that patience is being rewarded. The owners have outlined a pledge to fans at FutbolMiamiMLS.com; the team is planning a highly public process for choosing a club name; and hundreds of supporters enjoyed a round of drinks courtesy of the Mas Brothers just hours after the MLS announcement.
Here’s a selection of some of our favorite photos from the launch, courtesy of World Red Eye: