David Beckham's goal of bringing MLS to Miami appears to be in some significant trouble. What once seemed the equivalent of converting a penalty now seems like it may need the former set-piece specialist to curl one in from about 25 yards.
The reason for the change in fortunes is that getting a stadium built is proving far more difficult than Beckham's group seems to have anticipated. Its plans were dealt another blow on Tuesday when the city of Miami basically killed a proposal to put a MLS stadium on top of an existing boat slip next to the Miami Heat's AmericanAirlines Arena. This is the second major setback the stadium plan has suffered in the past month, with Miami-Dade County refusing to go along with a similar plan at another waterfront location.
While Beckham's ownership group has said there were numerous locations it'd be willing to consider, the latest decision has left the group hitting the "pause" button on stadium efforts, according to the group's lead negotiator John Alschuler.
It's probably too early to say that the franchise is in jeopardy of folding before it ever actually officially starts, but that is at least starting to look like something worth discussing. Beckham's franchise agreement is explicitly tied to his ability to build a suitable stadium, and if he can't do that, there are plenty of reasons to think MLS will eventually walk away.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber confirmed as much on Wednesday.
Don Garber on Miami stadium situation: "It puts us back to square one. We cannot go to Miami unless we have a strong downtown location."— Luke Wileman (@LukeWileman) June 11, 2014
Can Beckham get a stadium built? It's starting to look a lot more difficult that it did a few months ago.
The "boat-slip" location was just about everything Beckham's group was looking for. It had waterfront access, was near downtown and in an area where sports fans were already accustomed to congregating. The location was so perfect that Beckham's group was apparently willing to pay $2 million a year in rent, about double what the Heat are paying to play at AmericanAirlines Arena.
But the location also faced significant community and political objections, not so much unlike their previous plan that was essentially torpedoed by cruise-ship operators.
Of course, that's the thing about waterfront property in densely populated areas: There tend to be lots of entrenched interests that are going to want to have a say. It's starting to look like, at the very least, that the dream of a waterfront MLS stadium will have to be put to rest.
That shouldn't be enough to kill a deal, though. As picturesque as a waterfront stadium would be, getting a park in downtown should be the driving force and that is at least a possibility, although one that faces its own problems.
Beckham's group was working with the University of Miami on going in together on a shared downtown stadium, but negotiations have apparently been abandoned there as well. The idea of building near the Miami Marlins' new stadium has also been put forward, but Simon Fuller -- one of Beckham's ownership partners -- called that location "spiritually tainted" by the uproar that surrounded the largely publicly financed stadium.
So where does that leave Beckham and his cohorts?
Right now it leaves them in a very precarious situation. As much was made over Beckham exercising his option, he doesn't actually have a MLS team yet. MLS has always said that in order for a team to actually start play in Miami, they'll need to have finalized a stadium deal and there is almost certainly a time limit on how long they have to get that done.
The plan now is that the Miami MLS team will kick off in 2017. That's obviously quite a ways away and any number of things could happen between now and then that clear the way for a suitable stadium. But the possibility of MLS allowing a Miami team to start play before anything is finalized seems remote at best. MLS has already failed in South Florida and the league is well aware that it only has one more chance to make it work. And if a group led by the star power of Beckham and backed by the billions of Bolivian businessman Marcelo Claure can't make it work, there need to be serious questions about whether anyone can in the current environment.
The reality is that Miami doesn't really need MLS as much as MLS really wants to be in Miami. Miami will continue to be one of the most popular American cities for international tourists without MLS and there's really no reason for it to bend over backwards to accommodate a team that may never be more than the fourth most popular in the city (it would be beyond monumental for MLS to overtake the Heat, Miami Dolphins and the University of Miami football team).
Similarly, as bad as MLS may want to be in Miami, the league has been getting along just fine over the past decade without it. With teams already scheduled to launch in Orlando (2015) and Atlanta (2016), MLS's foothold in the South should be secure. Miami would be a nice cherry on top, but it's also the most expendable part of the sundae.
If Beckham can't get a stadium that at least checks off the most basic boxes -- downtown, accessible and designed for soccer -- MLS should not feel compelled to grant a team there on principle. There are no shortage of cities pining for MLS teams that are, frankly, well ahead of Miami in terms of activating their communities.
MLS in Miami may not be dead, but it needs Beckham to produce something special.