David Beckham announced that he is joining Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy team after the current European season is over. My first reaction is that this is equal in magnitude when Wayne Gretzky was traded from Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988. There are several similarities:
- Both are joining a Los Angeles sports team.
- Both are the most recognizable name in that particular sport.
- Both sports are not considered a major sport in the U.S., or even in Los Angeles.
Gretzky’s trade turned out to be the best the NHL could have hoped for. Los Angeles quickly became a hockey town, and the entire U.S. started to follow hockey. As a result, NHL was able to expand into western and southern states. It can be argued that teams such as the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Atlanta Thrashers, Nashville Predators, and Dallas Stars would not exist had Gretzky not been traded to Los Angeles.
Will Beckham have the same influence as Gretzky and transform Major League Soccer into a prominent league? I am doubtful of that. I am saying this because
1) Soccer is really not a popular spectator sport in the U.S., and the current MLS fan base is much smaller than the existing fan base in the U.S. when the Gretzky trade occurred.
2) An American professional soccer league has tried luring the most famous names in the sport before (with Pele and Bechenbauer in the mid- to late-70′s). Even though there was a temporary increase in the fan base, it did not last long.
3) Gretzky was still in his prime when he was traded, while Beckham is already past his prime.
4) Even though Beckham is probably the most recognizable athlete in the world, chances are that his popularity in the U.S. is far below Gretzky’s popularity when he was traded to the Kings.
I believe MLS will draw more fans (and potentially even get some TV money) because of Beckham, but unless the game itself is modified in some way to draw the fans (U.S. fans like offense and exactness — every 10th of a second counts in NBA, for example), fan interest would not last long.