Don Garber confident Beckham's Miami group will join MLS by fall
CHICAGO -- The MLS Board of Governors voted on Wednesday to authorize commissioner Don Garber, and a committee of owners and league executives, to "finalize the details" and later "officially close" on granting David Beckham's investment group, Miami Beckham United, an MLS expansion franchise.
Speaking to reporters at a news conference prior to the MLS All-Star Game, Garber said: "We believe the time is right -- finally -- for Miami to become a great MLS city."
The vote was held at the league's Board of Governors meeting in Chicago earlier on Wednesday. Beckham and the group's newly minted majority owner, Todd Boehly, made a presentation on the group's plans, including a $300 million, 25,000-seat stadium project in Miami's Overtown neighborhood.
It was the first time that Beckham had met formally with the league's owners, and it was also Boehly's introduction to MLS stakeholders. Garber said their presentation was very well received.
"David is passionate, articulate, and focused, and Todd is a great, young sports owner and business executive who has got a great vision for our league," Garber said.
Heading into the meeting, it was thought that the vote would grant final approval for Beckham's group. Instead, it appears that that vote is merely a step towards that goal.
"We're not announcing MLS Miami today, but I am confident we'll be able to do that, perhaps by the end of the summer," said Garber.
He added: "We're at the finish line. Now we're one foot closer to it, but not quite over it. But we're getting really, really, really close."
There are several hurdles that MBU still needs to overcome.
The group must still receive approval for zoning changes from the City of Miami in order to go ahead with its stadium project, and there has been pushback from residents living in the adjoining Spring Garden neighborhood. There is also a lawsuit from local landowner Bruce Matheson to contend with -- one that seeks to block Miami-Dade County from selling off a three-acre parcel to MBU that was approved by the county commission back in early June.
But the vote is the latest sign that Beckham's three-and-a-half-year quest to bring an MLS team to South Florida will reach a successful conclusion. The team hopes to begin play in 2020.
Garber said: "Everything is in place for us to do everything we need to do over the next couple of weeks [or] perhaps 30 days, to work with them to move forward."
Garber added that the process will ensure that "all the T's are crossed and all the I's are dotted [and] is enough to time for all of us to be able to make the right decisions -- them and us -- to be able to have the best possible dynamic to move forward.
Without question, MBU's journey towards the expansion finish line has been an odyssey. Beckham's group found it difficult to navigate the particulars of Miami politics, and endured several failed attempts to find a stadium site. MBU finally settled on the Overtown site in late 2015, and made an initial six-acre purchase from a private owner in March of 2016.
There had been some rumblings that some MLS owners were chafing against Beckham's discounted expansion fee of $25m, one that was written into his contract when he joined the league as a player back in 2007. The entry fee for the current round of expansion is expected to start at $150m.
Garber indicated last Monday in an exclusive interview with ESPN FC that he didn't think that would be an impediment to Beckham getting a franchise, especially given that MBU's investment group now includes, Boehly, Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, Beckham business partner Simon Fuller, and Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke.
"We needed to get through today, because I had some concerns that they wouldn't get past today," Garber said, though he declined to elaborate on those concerns.
In other league news, Garber said the league remains on track to select the next two expansion teams by the end of the year. Twelve cities have submitted applications.
"We'll have a process with our expansion committee in October and November, so that we'll have the ability to take a vote on granting those [next] two at our board meeting, which will be at MLS Cup in early December. Then we plan to announce the expansion for teams 26 and 27 at a later date."
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.