Black Ownership in DC and the Arrival of David Beckham: Two transactions for the good of MLS

By Andrew Dixon, III
Updated: January 15, 2007

FLORIDA–There are still almost four months until MLS kicks off but the events of the last week have already made this the momentus off season in the history of the league. From new ownership in DC to the big off season signing and (rumours of more), this will be one of more anticipated MLS seasons in the league’s short history.

Black Investors in DC

Last week started out with the completion of the sale of DC United to its new investor/operators: D.C. United Holdings, a minority group headed by MLS’ first Black owners. San-Franciso based real estate executive Victor MacFarlane and former Duke basketball player and co-founder of Blue Devil Ventures real investment company Brian Davis took over operations of the league’s most sucessful club with their immediate stated goal of securing a new stadium for the four time MLS Champions. Davis’ potential role as an owner had been rumored since last fall but the involvement of MacFarlane was unknown to many.

MacFarlane’s company, MacFarlane Partners is the largest minority-owned real estate management firm in the US. He has close to 30 years in all aspects of real estate transactions with his company, Aetna Life & Casaulty Company as well as GE Capital Real Estate, all of which will serve him well as he and the group attempt to negotiate a new stadium deal for DC United.

He was introduced to the game through his children, one of whom attended the IMG Soccer residency academy in Bradenton, FL, where many US Youth Internationals such as Freddy Adu have trained. A deal for DC United to be sold to other investors collapsed last year and the UCLA law graduate looked to step in.

“I am proud not only to assume ownership of the premier professional soccer team in the United States, but to do so as an African-American,” he said at the press conference “Our group is dedicated to supporting the organization so that the team continues to build on its history of excellence.”

Brian Davis is well known to college basketball fans as a member of Duke’s back to back National Champions in 1991 and 1992. Originally from the DC area, he formed Blue Devil ventures with former teammate Christian Laettner in 1995 with a view of revitalizing the urban landscape of Durham, NC where Duke is located.

“While I am also proud of what I have accomplished as an African-American developer and businessman, having grown up in the District makes this all the more special,” Davis added.

DC United Holdings, which also includes Will Chang, the first Chinese-American to become an investor/operator in MLS and hopes to add three more members including BET talk show host Carlos Watson, will look to work with city leaders such as DC mayor Adrian Fenty and councilman Marion Barry to complete a new stadium deal on the banks of the Anacostia. But for now, they realize their unique opportunity to help grow the sport in the Black community.

“Soccer is the number one sport for people of color around the world but not here in the U.S. — yet,” MacFarlane said at the press conference. “We want to be part of the change that is now on the horizon. We would love to help soccer become the sport that African Americans and other children of color first look to for recreation and entertainment.”

Victor MacFarlane (l) and Brian Davis (r): operators and investors of DC United (SF Examiner)

Victor MacFarlane (l) and Brian Davis (r): operators and investors of DC United (SF Examiner)

In the American sports landscape there remains the much talked about paucity of Black executives and coaches. Yet, it is in soccer where you find Black executives blazing a trail of ownership and hoping to grow a game that is starting to attract more interest in the Black community. The league, for its part, welcomes the diversity. Perhaps other sucessful Black executives will take notice.

David Beckham Comes To MLS

As big as that news is, it pales in comparison to LA Galaxy FC signing former England captain and Real Madrid midfielder David Beckham to a five year contract, the biggest signing in the history of the league. To understand how big a signing this is for an eleven year old soccer league consider this:

David Beckham is the most recognizable athlete on the planet right now. And has been for years.

No, not LaDanian Tomlinson.

No, golf fans, not even Tiger Woods.

David Beckham.

While Beckham had long expressed interest in playing MLS, the prospects of a stateside move began to blossom following the World Cup. After resinging the England captaincy following England’s exit, he was suprisingly dropped from the England side altogether by new England coach, Steve McClaren (once an assistant with Manchester United, Beckham’s former team). Beckham had come under increasing criticism by the British press (especially BBC punits like Terry Butcher) and McClaren, wanting to distance himself from his predecessor Sven-Goran Erikkson and possibly embrace himself to England fans declined to call Beckham for any of England’s subsequent Euro2008 qualifiers.

MLS then passed the so-called “Beckham Rule” which allows any team in MLS to sign up to two players beyond the salary cap. MLS will cover the costs for the first $400,000 and the team would be responsible for the rest. At the time, MLS Commissioner Don Garber stated that this was a move towards attracting better players to the league to improve the overall quality of play.

Meanwhile in Madrid, Beckham had been relegated to the bench, making only sporadic appearances for his club team Real Madrid under new coach Fabio Capello. Unsure of his role with Real he declined to sign a new contract and opened up negotiations with Galaxy FC in a city where he opened a soccer academy in 2006. LA secured his signature and Beckham will move to the Home Depot Center in August…or will he? Capello has already said that Beckham has played his last match for Real in light of the contract and Beckham is reportedly trying to find a way out of his contract to arrive in LA for the start of the season in April.

While the move has been mostly met with mostly excitement and overall approval, the acclaim is not universal. Former Manchester United teammate Terry Cooke, now in MLS with Colorado is one of many of have expressed his dismay at the size of the $250 million contract. Fans of Beckham are wondering why he would go to a “third rate league” to play when he could have signed for another English team. The move has even promoted Soccer Haters like Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel, a golf and baseball supporter, to trot out the same tired arguments about how boring soccer is and refer to soccer fans as “soccernistas”.

Full disclosure: I am a David Beckham fan and I am happy that he’s coming to MLS. But I also see few negatives coming out of this deal.

Despite the size of the contract, further analysis leads many to believe that most of it is based on potential marketing deals. Further, the two player limit in the “Beckham Rule” will not usher in the era of unrestrained spending that doomed the NASL.

But most importantly, the man can still play. Critics like Ray Hudson say that he’s lost a step and that he is a “one trick pony”. However, Beckham didn’t make his name on blazing speed or crazy Ronaldinho-like dribbling skills but rather his industry in the midfield, his dynamic passing ability, especially through the air and the danger he presents on free kicks and corners. Everywhere he has gone he has been described as a great professional. At 31 he still has some good years left and unlike failed signings such as Lothar Mattheus and Youri Djorkaeff, he won’t be coming here looking for a vacation. He’s coming here to help “take soccer to the next level,” in terms of play, prestige, attention and entertainment. The only way he can do that is coming here to help the Galaxy win a championship. Yes, for all intents and purposes he’s closed the door on his England career but English fans, pundits and the current coaching staff turned their collective backs on their former captain a long time ago. There’s no doubt that it paved the way for his move to LA.

The only negative I see is if he blows his knee out 10 minutes into his Galaxy debut.

David Beckham is not going to make MLS a better league overnight, nor will a bunch of top name players start looking for houses in Columbus because he’s here (though former Dutch internaitonal Edgar Davids is rumoured to be headed to FC Dallas). What he will do, however is give the league instant star quality, increase attendance through ticket sales (Galaxy FC have already sold over 2000 season tickets) and garner a little more media attention. If Soccer Haters like Wentzel feel are writing about it, if the Wall Street Jounal is announcing his arrival, if the pundits on Gol TV’s 45/45 are talking about it, if the BBC sudenly knows that the Galaxy even exists, the move is already paying dividends. If kids get inspired watching him play, then the investment in David Beckham will be worth it.

Beckham: wants to take soccer to the next level in the US (AP)

Beckham: wants to take soccer to the next level in the US (AP)

Two big moves that MLS officials hope will increase soccer visibility in the US, among Blacks as well as all Americans.