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.
Aug 1, 2014, 7:57 AM EDT
Brazilian outlet UOL says Ronaldinho could be on his way to Major League Soccer, as the Red Bulls up the ante in NY rivalry.
Aug 1, 2014, 1:03 AM EDT
A nine-match weekend sees MLS return to NBC, with NBCSN set to broadcast games in Kansas City, San Francisco.
Jul 31, 2014, 10:07 PM EDT
Manager remains insistent the Spanish international will stay at Stamford Bridge.
Jul 31, 2014, 9:03 PM EDT
Successful procedure marks the end of John’s 2014 hopes.
Jul 31, 2014, 8:12 PM EDT
De Laurentiis confirms the partenopei’s interest in the afro-laden star.
Jul 31, 2014, 7:22 PM EDT
Toe injury to sideline the U.S. international for an estimated 10 games.
Jul 31, 2014, 6:31 PM EDT
No. 1: Eddie Johnson. No. 2: These new-fangled rules.
Jul 31, 2014, 6:02 PM EDT
Young Americans set to blaze trail in La Liga academies.
Jul 31, 2014, 5:39 PM EDT
San Lorenzo is in Copa’s finals, but Piatti is unlikely to join them.
Jul 31, 2014, 5:14 PM EDT
Two players who spent plenty of time on the sidelines last season are pushing to be integral parts of Manuel Pellegrini’s plans.
Jul 31, 2014, 4:42 PM EDT
29-year-old Argentina arrives from Tigre, becoming the club’s third Designated Player of all-time.
Jul 31, 2014, 4:10 PM EDT
Everton’s frugality gave way to necessity. Is Lukaku worth it the serious cash they splashed?
Jul 31, 2014, 3:21 PM EDT
Remember when Marco Reus, Dries Mertens and Leighton Baines solidified Manchester United’s status in Europe? Us neither.
Jul 31, 2014, 2:56 PM EDT
Cristiano Ronaldo and Christopher Renzi are looking horns over the CR7 trademark.
Jul 31, 2014, 2:25 PM EDT
Guillermo Ochoa starred in the 2014 World Cup for Mexico, and now will try to fill Willy Caballero’s shoes at Malaga.
Jul 31, 2014, 2:08 PM EDT
As deadly virus continues to spread, the Seychelles refuse to let Sierra Leone travel for qualifier.
Jul 31, 2014, 1:50 PM EDT
Seydou Keita has left Barcelona, but being in a different league has not stopped the animosity between the AS Roma midfielder and Real Madrid’s Pepe.
Jul 31, 2014, 1:27 PM EDT
Gerrard: “With all due respect to them, I said to Suarez that he was too good for Arsenal.”
Jul 31, 2014, 1:02 PM EDT
Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said several Premier League teams had interest in 19-year-old American striker Julian Green.
Jul 31, 2014, 12:26 PM EDT
Ching said his former USMNT teammate needs incentive-laden contracts to thrive, while Johnson claims Ching is jealous.
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