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Brand it like Beckham

David Beckham's economic impact on long-suffering U.S. soccer league is being felt, even before his first game here.

A weekly column by Chris Isidore, senior writer

NEW YORK ( -- The David Beckham brand hits the U.S. market this month.

Beckham will soon be seen in U.S. commercials for adidas, Walt Disney's (Charts, Fortune 500) sports network ESPN and cell phone maker Motorola (Charts, Fortune 500). He'll likely be on the cover of major U.S. magazines and papers, as well as leading sports reports and other television news coverage.

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David Beckham is already having an economic impact on U.S. professional soccer before his first game here.
David Beckham is already having an economic impact on U.S. professional soccer before his first game here.

Oh yes, he might also play a few games of European football, AKA soccer, here on this side of the pond, as he joins the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer (MLS).

For those soccer fans who have been patiently waiting for Americans to warm up to the world's favorite sport, this would seem to be their moment. While Americans have had only brief flirtations with soccer in the past, they've had a long-time meaningful love affair with celebrities and media superstars.

And Beckham clearly qualifies as that, even among the 90 percent of fans here who can't tell you the name of a single U.S.-born male soccer player.

The polling of Americans done by talent marketing agency Davie Brown Entertainment found that 51.9 percent of Americans know who Beckham is. That's more than twice the 25 percent who know the best player on arguably the best team in U.S. sports right now, the San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan.

The next best known soccer player is retired women's player Mia Hamm at 48 percent. Landon Donovan, who will be Beckham's teammate on the Galaxy, is known by only 9.1 percent of Americans, even though he's been in the league six years and has played for the American team in two World Cups.

Similar survey results were reached by Marketing Evaluations, which compiles the Q score ratings used by advertisers. But its findings on positive and negative view of those surveyed were somewhat lower than those found by Davie Brown.

"He's well known, but he hasn't established himself with any kind of positive appeal, at least in this country," said Henry Schafer of Marketing Evaluations.

But what most Americans know about Beckham is his celebrity, not his play.

His wife Victoria is Posh of the British pop group the Spice Girls and both have been featured frequently in gossip magazines and Web sites both here and in Europe.

"He's 31, he's got fashionable hair and a popular wife," said Simon Chadwick, director of the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre at the University of London. He thinks Beckham's cultural icon status could help boost soccer's popularity in the U.S.

Beckham is already one of the top athletes in terms of endorsements, with the Times of London estimating his deals are worth £20.5 million a year, or $41.3 million. And that's even with the expiration of a three-year deal with Procter & Gamble (Charts, Fortune 500) unit Gillette last month.

And he is cashing in with the Galaxy as well. His contract, which includes a share of ticket and merchandize sales, could net him $250 million in five years. To put that in perspective, that's about the same pay the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez is getting over ten years.

Still, Beckham could wind up being a bargain for the Galaxy. His base salary of $5.5 million for this year, a MLS record, has already been covered by increased revenue for the Galaxy.

Beckham's first game, an exhibition match on July 21 against British team Chelsea, has already sold out the Home Depot Center, a soccer-only stadium that seats 27,000.

A July 28 game in the Los Angeles Coliseum against a Mexican team might not sellout that 92,000-capacity stadium, but MLS is hopeful that it will come close. And the rest of the league is optimistic about what Beckham can do for their teams.

Red Bull New York has already sold about 26,000 tickets to the Galaxy's Aug. 18 game at Giants Stadium, far more than their top crowd of 15,546 so far this year. And tickets to that Beckham game haven't even gone on sale through Ticketmaster yet.

Marc de Grandpre, managing director of Red Bull New York, said the team has included the Beckham game as part of multi-game ticket packages in order to boost sales for other games as well. He added that this has resulted in a 180 percent increase in multi-game packages sold this year versus a year ago.

"Beckham represents an extraordinary worldwide brand," he said. "His arrival in the states is unparalleled to any other foreign athlete plying their trade in the US, regardless of sport."

And Beckham could also lift the U.S. game in the eyes of soccer fans worldwide, who have always had reason to look down on our version of what the rest of the world calls football.

"'[The Beckham signing] has changed the perception of U.S. football outside the United States," Chadwick. "There's an appreciation that the game is being played at a much higher level."
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