When I first heard that David Beckham was coming to play in Major League Soccer, I knew the truth. Beckham would be great for the financial success of the league for at least one year, but that soccer wouldn't be any better off. But with Beckham constantly sidelined, I actually think that MLS might actually come out in worse shape than when before Beckham started.
How is this possible? After all, Beckham has generated publicity for the league that it has never received.
Let me explain where I'm coming from here. Publicity is only good if it gets people in the seats. And it certainly has. Beckham has appeared before sellout crowds never really seen in league history. The issue is that it's totally feasible to suggest that a small fraction of those who are sampling soccer now that David Beckham has come to town would have sampled some time anyway. But when they show up to the venues -- ask those in Dallas, Toronto and New England -- Beckham doesn't play a minute.
When Beckham first came into the league, I pointed out that he wouldn't transcend the sport because he only scores one goal every six games. Here are the stats everyone now knows on Beckham's first seven games. He's only been on the field for 33 out of a possible 630 minutes, or 5.24 percent of the time.
That's surely angered those who have sampled soccer through Beckham, whether it was the people that went to games or some of the record 1.5 million people that tuned into ESPN's broadcast of Beckham's debut that was promoted to the hilt only to see Beckham trot out for a promotional 12 minutes.
For those who have "seen" him in person, it's undoubtedly worse. They go to a game, buy a Beckham jersey and in some cases -- like the folks in New England who didn't see him play --have bought a four-pack of tickets just to see this game and then he doesn't show up. The buy-four-for-one package most recently happened with LeBron James during his rookie season when he went on the road. The difference is that LeBron played in these cities. He played in 79 of 82 games that year.
The sneaky behind-the-scenes story with the Galaxy is that, although there is never a guarantee that a player will play in a game, they put a "Beckham might not play" disclaimer on their Ticketmaster site for all their games, before he even came over to play, leading me to believe that they knew exactly what they were selling to fans. As far as I know, no team in the history of sports has ever gone out of their way to put such a disclaimer on a ticketing site.
Sure, there are 18 more games for Beckham to play this year possibly -- including his first official appearance in New York this Saturday. But even that 18 number might be too high. If Beckham gets healthy, he can miss at least four games to play for England in qualifying matches.
Send me your e-mails. This is a long-term deal. I'm being impatient. The problem is that the window to not only cash in, but also have something meaningful happen, is not five years. The window is this year. And unless Beckham turns into something we know he's not -- a prolific goal-scorer who can make SportsCenter every time the Galaxy plays -- people are going to forget about him. Except "Extra," "Access Hollywood" and "People," that is.
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