Books: The Beckham Experiment

…by Grant Wahl

What - you were expecting someone else's photo?

The Beckham Experiment: How the World’s Most Famous Athlete Tried to Conquer America has been lauded and praised by everyone from dead-spinner Will Leitch to that anti-soccer curmudgeon, Frank DeFord.  And why is that?  Because it’s American Sports Journalism at its finest?  Because it takes the high gloss sheen from David Beckham and his PR machine?  Because it’s a true Hollywood tale of haves and have-nots?  Yeah, no doubt…

The best thing for me is this is the first high profile book devoted to the strange and sometimes counter-intuitive world of Major League Soccer.  This is the world David Beckham brought himself and his handlers into.  The world of a niche sport trying to grasp its share of the fickle American sports attention span, in which soccer, the world’s most popular sport, is relegated to afterthought status on Sportscenter.  In MLS, you have a league set up in a single-entity fashion and backed by some of this country’s wealthiest businessmen.  This structure has so far protected the league and kept it afloat, even amidst contraction (two Florida teams lost several years ago) and unimpressive TV ratings.  Now MLS has been adding teams the past few seasons: Toronto, San Jose, Seattle, and next year Philadelphia.  Attendance-wise, the teams are solid, ranking up there with soccer leagues in places like the Netherlands, Sweden, and France.  But MLS’s single-entity structure isn’t like anyplace else.  The league (not teams) own the player contracts, which means, a team can’t just go out and buy talent like in Europe.  It’s a system meant to impose parity and fiscal responsibility on the teams – something Team Beckham never seemed to grasp. Continue reading