May 16, 2013, 10:55 AM EDT
Pele and David Beckham splashed themselves across a willing U.S. Soccer scene at wildly different times in the game’s development here.
And yet their legacies look quite similar, both measurably significant in soccer’s growth and larger acceptance here. Both men cultivated greater awareness for the country’s top professional league, although in very different ways, moving the needle forward in very different places along the cultural awareness continuum.
Is it lame to call this one a draw?
Pele was here as the pro game was barely out of infancy, still more “novelty” than “national footprint” on the domestic sports map.
Beckham arrived with the game at a far higher level of awareness and cultural acceptance, but when it had definitely arrived at a certain plateau. He pushed it past a sticking point.
To use an American football analogy, Pele moved the ball off the goal line, gaining a couple of important first downs. Beckham, who retired from soccer on Thursday at age 38, helped move the ball past the 50-yard line, into scoring position in the opponent’s end.
I think we can all agree that all forward movement is important. Pele’s contribution was to stamp legitimacy on a league that was still full of carnival tricks, still overly dependent on gimmicks to draw the crowds. And he put far more eyes on the North American Soccer League, which was not yet into its second decade when he arrived in 1975.
Major League Soccer was barely into its second decade when the Beckham tsunami landed with force on Major League Soccer shores. His goal in the bigger picture was always about increasing TV rights, creating buzz across a greater spectrum and ginning up general awareness.
It all started on the cold January day in 2007 when news that soccer’s illustrious global icon would be joining MLS, which was easily the most significant league announcement since Alan Rothenberg and other architects first revealed details ahead of the 1996 launch.
Going forward, sellouts were the norm in his first two or three seasons, so his impact at the gate was significant. (And gate receipts in MLS make up a far, far greater portion of revenue than in other U.S. sports, so that was a boon.) The real victory was in general market awareness (i.e., outside the soccer niche audience) and in enhanced TV contracts.
Long story short, Brand Beckham was always a circus – but don’t we all like to watch the circus? He did make more Americans watch MLS.
By the way, there were always better players, in both cases. Still, both men helped to validate their competitive value with championships in their final years, adding muscle to the argument that they were more than a brand and a pretty face on all this. Pele helped guide the Cosmos to the 1977 NASL championship in his third and final season with the club. Beckham won MLS Cup titles in 2011 and 2012, his final pair of LA Galaxy seasons.
May 28, 2015, 8:52 PM EDT
Landing Ancelotti would be the best thing AC Milan have done in years.
May 28, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT
Sunil Gulati is putting his not only talking the talk, but walking the walk, with regard to much-needed reform in world soccer.
May 28, 2015, 5:25 PM EDT
Bob Ley joins the Men in Blazers to talk about the FIFA arrests and decades of corruption inside world football’s governing body.
May 28, 2015, 4:56 PM EDT
With the 2014-15 season in the books, clubs are already busy making moves for next season. Where should each club focus their efforts (and $$$)?
May 28, 2015, 3:25 PM EDT
Going over the highs and lows, the surprises and disappointments, plus much more from the PL season that was, here’s the latest PST Extra.
May 28, 2015, 2:33 PM EDT
Remember these 10 matches from the 2014-15 season? Here’s highlights from them all.
May 28, 2015, 1:35 PM EDT
Burnley and Chelsea will find their names often amongst the top stat men in the Premier League this season.
May 28, 2015, 12:57 PM EDT
Liverpool legend will be heading to California soon, says Bruce Arena.
May 28, 2015, 12:08 PM EDT
FIFA’s long-time president has addressed the congress in Zurich about the shocking allegations of corruption.
May 28, 2015, 11:25 AM EDT
UEFA to discuss possibility of walking away from FIFA in Berlin next month.
May 28, 2015, 10:05 AM EDT
UEFA’s chief pleads with Blatter to walk away as world soccer’s governing body is in ruins.
May 28, 2015, 9:31 AM EDT
PHOTOS & VIDEO: Women’s players are available in the FIFA video game series for the first time.
May 28, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
Former Valencia, Liverpool boss has called time in Naples as his hometown is calling.
May 28, 2015, 7:51 AM EDT
The Russian president finds it “odd” that the FBI is chasing down FIFA officials…
May 28, 2015, 12:53 AM EDT
Juninho’s early PK is all the Galaxy need, as they climb to 4th in the Western Conference. RSL, meanwhile, are on the outside looking in.
May 28, 2015, 12:43 AM EDT
17 MLS teams will entire this year’s US Open Cup in the 4th round. On Wednesday, they learned who they’ll face.
May 28, 2015, 12:30 AM EDT
Wins in May don’t get much more “must-win” than this one. PDX tops the East’s top team.
May 27, 2015, 8:15 PM EDT
According to his agent, Balotelli is going nowhere this summer. He’ll stay and fight for his place next season.
May 27, 2015, 6:15 PM EDT
11 current and former officials from around the world have been provisionally banned from all football-related activities.
May 27, 2015, 5:23 PM EDT
Rog and Davo relive the Premier League’s season finale, including squeaky bum time at the bottom of the table.
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