Beckham signing a huge deal

In an era when athletes change teams with the same frequency that the average person changes their socks, it’s tough for fans to get excited about a player signing. What’s the point? The chances are more than likely that a big-name acquisition only will be with his or her new team for three or four years before moving on to greener pastures when his or her contract expires. It’s just the way of modern sports. I’m particularly callous when it comes to player movement. I’m always curious to know which players have signed with which teams, but I stopped getting excited about player movement long ago. Excitement leads to attachment, which inevitably leads to disappointment when the player leaves town. It’s simply not worth the emotional investment. So, having said all that, you can imagine my surprise when I found myself getting genuinely excited over word that soccer icon David Beckham had signed a contract with Major League Soccer’s L.A. Galaxy late last week. In fact, I don’t know if excited is even the word. Perhaps giddy would be more accurate. It didn’t matter that I’ve never seen a MLS game on television or in person. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t aware the L.A. Galaxy even existed, or that I can probably name only a handful of players currently plying their trade in the league. And it certainly didn’t matter that I believe the five-year deal worth $250 million Beckham signed to play for the Galaxy is completely ridiculous and, quite frankly, obscene. I was excited. Beckham’s signing could be the most meaningful player signing in any sport—quite possibly ever. It has the potential to change the entire sporting landscape of North America and I, for one, think it’s a change that’s long overdue. We, as North American sports fans, have had our collective heads in the sand for far too long. The majority of us seem to espouse the opinion that our sporting championships—be they in football, baseball, or hockey—are the most significant events on the sporting calendar. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is the most popular North American sports are completely insignificant when compared to the true global game of soccer—or, as it’s more commonly referred to, football. Need proof? According to the Super Bowl’s official website, 141.4 million viewers tuned into the NFL’s championship game last year. Sure, the number is big but it pales in comparison to the 352.6 million viewers—on average—who tuned into each and every game of the 2002 FIFA World Cup. According to FIFA’s website, the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan drew an incredible cumulative audience of 28.8 billion people. That’s more than four times the current population of Earth! But despite its undeniable popularity on the global stage, professional soccer has been slow to catch on in North America. There are a multitude of theories as to why that is, but I am inclined to believe the single biggest factor is the lack of a recognizable face with which to market the game to the North American consumer. Enter Beckham. Beckham is one of those rare athletes whose fame transcends his or her sport. He is a part of the global consciousness. Visit any country in the world, mention his name, and someone in the room will know who you are referring to. I spent six weeks travelling around China in 2002, where I met a lot of people who could speak no more than a handful of words in English. Yet they all knew Beckham—along with Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. Even North American fans, who tend to be ignorant to the world’s top athletes, have heard his name. Beckham will force the cynical sports fans, who may have dismissed the MLS as a league of no-names in the past, to take notice. He also should have the ability to draw people who are not your typical sports fans. I don’t think I’m terribly out of line in saying that women don’t mind looking at Mr. Beckham. My Mom is by no means a soccer diehard, but she’s been known to sit down and watch parts of a game if Beckham is on the pitch. Perhaps more importantly, however, Beckham’s mere presence in the MLS will raise the profile of the game with the North American sports media. ESPN traditionally hasn’t allocated a great deal of effort or resources to covering MLS games. But since Beckham signed with the Galaxy last week, the league has figured prominently on the website of the self-proclaimed “worldwide leader in sports.” National exposure is a critical component to building a successful sports league. The Ultimate Fighting Championship muddled along in relative obscurity until it signed a national television deal with Spike TV. And since its arrival on television, the UFC has enjoyed unprecedented growth and now is firmly established in the mainstream sports consciousness—even threatening to make boxing obsolete. With a recognizable poster boy and national media attention, the foundation has been laid to make the MLS relevant with North American sports fans. Hopefully, we all can discover what the rest of the world seemingly has known forever—that soccer, the only truly global sport, is worth the attention. acruickshank@fortfrances.com

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