By David Adams
MIAMI (Reuters) – Former England soccer captain David Beckham announced on Wednesday that he is exercising his option to become the owner of a Major League Soccer team in Miami.
“This is a dream,” the international soccer star said at an appearance with MLS Commissioner Don Garber at the Florida city’s gleaming new bayfront art museum.
“This is an exciting time for myself and an exciting time for my family and my friends and my partners,” Beckham added.
Garber called the decision a “historic day … for soccer in America.”
A final deal to grant the franchise to Beckham’s investment group could be several months away though, sources close to the negotiations said, with a stadium location and financing still requiring approval from the MLS board for his team to become the 22nd club of the top U.S. professional soccer league.
The mayor of Miami Dade, Carlos Gimenez, said negotiations for the stadium started last week.
“There’s going to be a few bumps along the way, but we’re going to make the team in Miami not just the best team in America, we’re going to take the team global,” Beckham told a reception for city leaders at Miami’s performing arts center on Tuesday night.
The former Manchester United and Real Madrid star, who also played for the Los Angeles Galaxy, retired as a player last May and holds a $25 million option in his MLS contract to start a new franchise.
Beckham is already in discussions with Miami-Dade county to possibly lease county-owned land for a 25,000-seat stadium.
“I have seen the atmosphere around the city,” Beckham told the media Tuesday outside the reception, referring to scenes he witnessed last year when the city’s basketball team, the Miami Heat, captured the National Basketball Association (NBA) championship.
“I saw the passion of the people for sport,” he said, dressed in a sharp charcoal suit and tie.
Beckham, 38, arrived in Miami fresh from having attended Sunday’s Super bowl in New Jersey, TV coverage of which featured a fit Beckham in an underwear commercial.
Beckham’s investment group has narrowed its stadium search to five possible sites in and around downtown Miami, officials say, including a 25-acre waterfront lot next to the port of Miami’s cruise ship terminals, potentially putting the new team at the forefront of Miami’s tourism landscape.
MLS has stressed the importance of having a final stadium deal, along with a business plan, before it will approve a new team.
Beckham’s group is not looking for public financing, but may need to negotiate site plans with the county, such as leasing the port location, to help build a privately financed stadium.
Beckham has toured Miami twice in recent months with British businessman and American Idol creator Simon Fuller, as well as Bolivian-born billionaire Marcelo Claure, founder of Miami-based Brightstar Corp, the world’s largest wireless distributor and the provider of global services to Apple.
Beckham is also looking for a pad in Miami, although the London home he shares with his wife of 14 years, former pop star-turned-fashion designer Victoria Beckham, and their four young children, will remain the main family home.
“We are going to be spending a lot of time here,” he told the media on Tuesday. “We are hoping to get our own place here as well.”
(Editing by Bernadette Baum and Stephen Powell)