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Beckham launches plan to build soccer franchise in Miami

Former England soccer captain David Beckham attends the world premier of the film "The Class of 92" in London December 1, 2013. REUTERS/Neil
Former England soccer captain David Beckham attends the world premier of the film "The Class of 92" in London December 1, 2013. REUTERS/Neil

By David Adams

MIAMI (Reuters) - Former England soccer captain David Beckham announced on Wednesday that he has exercised his option to become the owner of a Major League Soccer team in Miami, promising to make it "the people's club."

The international soccer star said he looked forward to building a world-class team, as yet unnamed, during a Miami press conference alongside MLS Commissioner Don Garber and the mayor of Miami-Dade County.

"I have worked for some of the biggest clubs in the world, and some of the greatest players in the world, and this is a dream," said Beckham, dressed in a dark suit and tie to address a large media audience at a gleaming new bayfront art museum in the south Florida city.

"This is an exciting time ... for myself, exciting time for my family and friends and partners, and something we are really looking forward to bringing to Miami," Beckham added, to chants of "We're going to MLS," from a group of fans calling themselves the "Southern Legion."

Beckham signed a shareholder agreement on Tuesday evening with his two partners, the British TV producer and creator of American Idol Simon Fuller, and Bolivian-born billionaire Marcelo Claure, founder of Miami-based Brightstar Corp, the world's largest wireless distributor and the provider of global services to Apple Inc

"We have a deal. We are three partners, David, myself and Simon, as of last night," Claure said.

Garber called the franchise decision a "historic day ... for soccer in America," noting that Beckham, 38, was the first former player anywhere in the world to become the owner of a top league soccer team in modern times.

Beckham's commitment to MLS, dating back to 2007 when he joined the Los Angeles Galaxy, has had "an incredibly powerful impact on our sport and our league in this country," said Garber.

His influence had set the stage to "tell the world that United States and Major League Soccer can compete with the rest of the world," Garber added.

He went on to praise Beckham for his work ethic, as well as his charity work as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF and for the group Malaria No More.

He noted Beckham was headed to the Philippines next week for UNICEF to help with the relief effort after November's Typhoon Haiyan.

Beckham arrived in Miami fresh from having attended Sunday's Superbowl in New Jersey, TV coverage of which featured an agile and scantily clad Beckham in an underwear commercial.

The former Manchester United and Real Madrid star retired as a player last May and holds a $25 million option in his MLS contract to start a new franchise.

The option was officially exercised shortly before it expired on December 31, Garber confirmed to Reuters.

A final deal to grant the franchise to Beckham's investment group could be several months away though, sources close to the negotiations said, with a stadium location and financing still requiring approval from the MLS board for his team to become the 22nd club of the top U.S. professional soccer league.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said negotiations for the stadium started last week. "We know we have to get rolling on it," he said.

Beckham is already in discussions with Miami-Dade County to possibly lease county-owned land for a 25,000-seat stadium.

Beckham's investment group has narrowed its stadium search to five possible sites in and around downtown Miami, officials say, including a 25-acre (10-hectare) waterfront lot next to the port of Miami's cruise ship terminals, potentially putting the new team at the forefront of Miami's tourism landscape.

MLS has stressed the importance of having a final stadium deal, along with a business plan, before it will approve a new team.

Beckham's group is not looking for public financing, but may need to negotiate site plans with the county, such as leasing the port location, to help build a privately financed stadium.

"We want to create a soccer team, a football club, that is the people's club, as simple as that," Beckham said.

The famously tattooed soccer star later had to abandon a planned photo opportunity at a youth soccer facility when the field was rushed by hundreds of fans, media and paparazzi. He was due to kick the ball around with the children, but had to be escorted from the field due to security concerns.

Beckham has toured Miami twice in recent months with Fuller and Claure, and says he feels at home in the heavily Hispanic city.

He picked up some Spanish while playing in Madrid for four seasons and on Wednesday fielded questions in Spanish from some media.

"The fact that I have played for teams like Real Madrid, AC Milan, PSG (Paris-Saint Germain FC), has given me that different kind of culture. I understand the people here in Miami and this part of America. They are very passionate about their teams," he told Reuters.

He is mulling over possible names for the team, and also plans on creating a youth academy to nurture local talent.

A list of possible players had been drawn up, he said, though he released no names.

Beckham is now looking for a pad in Miami, although the London home he shares with his wife of 14 years, former pop star-turned-fashion designer Victoria Beckham, and their four young children, will remain the main family home.

"Our children's education is the most important thing to us and they are educated in London and our home is in London. But I will personally be spending a lot of time here in Miami," he said.

(Additional reporting by Ben Gruber; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Stephen Powell, Andrew Hay and Lisa Shumaker)

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