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.
Jul 2, 2015, 12:59 AM EDT
Japan beat the U.S. to win the 2011 World Cup. The U.S. beat Japan to win the 2012 Olympics. Round 3 takes place Sunday in the 2015 Women’s World Cup final.
Jul 2, 2015, 12:28 AM EDT
A Major League Soccer franchise is going to win the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Jul 1, 2015, 11:57 PM EDT
Mark Sampson spoke in detail about the character of Laura Bassett and how he hopes girls in England are inspired for the future.
Jul 1, 2015, 11:11 PM EDT
Full credit to England for an inspiring World Cup, and to Japan for getting to a second straight World Cup final.
Jul 1, 2015, 10:51 PM EDT
Three weeks from tonight are the Gold Cup semifinals, with the final on July 26 in Philadelphia.
Jul 1, 2015, 10:11 PM EDT
From Brandi Chastain and Jeb Brovsky to total strangers from England and beyond, my goodness, people are trying to console Laura Bassett.
Jul 1, 2015, 9:12 PM EDT
United says it remains committed to bringing MLS to Minnesota, and it’s worth wondering if the rival Minnesota group is hampering progress.
Jul 1, 2015, 9:02 PM EDT
Defending champion Japan advances to second straight Women’s World Cup final.
Jul 1, 2015, 8:20 PM EDT
Big story for Dortmund, even if it’s a bit under-the-radar.
Jul 1, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
Donovan, of course, was left off the World Cup roster last summer by Klinsmann, much to the chagrin of many U.S. fans.
Jul 1, 2015, 6:45 PM EDT
England’s fairytale run to its first Women’s World Cup semifinal meets the reigning champions in Edmonton on Wednesday
Jul 1, 2015, 5:50 PM EDT
Shay Facey knows Lampard from his time at Manchester City, and wasn’t bashful in praising the situation.
Jul 1, 2015, 4:26 PM EDT
He’s the latest addition for Roberto Mancini at the San Siro, along with Monaco midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia and Granada defender Jeison Murillo.
Jul 1, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
As we gear up for a massive Gold Cup tournament, here’s a look at the superstars who will be on show in the United States of America.
Jul 1, 2015, 2:20 PM EDT
With the summer transfer window officially open, plenty of deals have started to trickle through. Here’s a roundup of the latest.
Jul 1, 2015, 1:50 PM EDT
USWNT legend Wambach joins the Dan Patrick show to preview the Women’s World Cup final.
Jul 1, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
Can the Three Lionesses cause another upset to set up a clash with the USA in the final?
Jul 1, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Colombian forward is inching towards a move to Stamford Bridge.
Jul 1, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT
After giving away a PK in a pivotal moment of the USWNT’s World Cup semifinal, Johnston thanked her teammates for their support.
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