Beckham attracted media, but MLS has driven its own growth | Soccer | CBC Sports

MLSBeckham attracted media, but MLS has driven its own growth

Posted: Monday, December 3, 2012 | 07:59 PM

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David Beckham poses with his sons, from left, Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz after the Los Angeles Galaxy's 3-1 win in the MLS Cup championship soccer match against Houston on Dec. 1. (Jae C. Hong/Associated Press) David Beckham poses with his sons, from left, Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz after the Los Angeles Galaxy's 3-1 win in the MLS Cup championship soccer match against Houston on Dec. 1. (Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)

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Like a poorly constructed period piece onscreen, the telling of David Beckham's time in the MLS is being filled with revisionist history, writes Ben Rycroft.

The problem with Hollywood happy endings is that they usually come with a nice, tidy little moral and gloss over some of the more glaring plot points.

That's been the case with MLS and David Beckham these past few weeks. The story? The Legend of David Beckham. The plot holes? Filled with terms like 'over-delivered' and 'saved MLS' peppered throughout.

Beckham's time in North American soccer has been one fantastic, big screen experience after another. From the time he arrived in red-carpet fashion, to how he exited, flashbulbs popping as he won back-to-back MLS Cups, his impact has been mythologized, over-hyped and generally over-blown.

And now, like a poorly constructed period piece, it's being filled with revisionist history as the game's leaders lump praise on to a man who is being credited with raising league wide attendances, spurring expansion franchises and inspiring stadiums to be built.

Last week, MLS commissioner Don Garber kicked off the re-writing of Beckham's time in North America by calling him an 'unbelievable ambassador.' He credited the average midfielder with helping to bring legitimacy to the league and taking it to a new level.

A level, he would note, that they felt they could exceed now that he was departing, but lumped the lion's share of the growth on the first MLS designated player.

This from Garber, the same man who fielded countless questions about Beckham's injuries, absences and attitude during those first three years of his contract. Is he doing enough? Does he want to be here? Is he worth all the money? And while the commissioner didn't ever really throw the Golden Boy under the bus during that time, as the missed games mounted and the transfers abroad dragged on, he didn't exactly give him a ringing endorsement either.

Teammate Landon Donovan jumped in on the love fest as well last week; lavishing praise on the man he once called a bad teammate. Proving, if nothing else, that memories are short and winning erases all bad feelings.

In fact, those bad feelings toward Becks were largely the story for the first few years of the Beckham Experiment in North America - the tale of an absent superstar who was raking in $6.5 million a season while his teammates' paltry salaries allowed them the luxury of taking the bus to work.

In the middle of all this controversy however, MLS was methodically going about grabbing market share and building a bigger audience for soccer on this side of the globe. Their soccer-specific stadium strategy alone - something that allows them to solely control the ancillary revenues at their games - should be heralded as the major reason for bringing stability to the once fledgling league.

Shirt sponsors, national television deals and a commitment to developing players through their academies are all success stories coming from the same period that Beckham supposedly saved soccer.

Did he have a hand in any of that? Of course not.

Did he help negotiate to bring other big name players here - the likes of Robbie Keane and Thierry Henry? Nope. Then he must have somehow helped Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Philadelphia and Montreal secure expansion franchises. Again, no.

Yet, he of varied haircut fame has been credited - directly and indirectly - in a number of places as somehow having an influence over all of that. And it fails to mention, despite all the inroads the league has made, that television ratings during that time really haven't moved a whole lot, even with all the pomp and circumstance.

It would be foolish to undervalue the impact having an underwear model, acting as the face of MLS, has had on the league. It certainly helped to attract the attention of the mainstream media and probably even introduced a few new fans to the beautiful game.

But, even with all the Hollywood hype, Beckham didn't make soccer relevant in North America; MLS, as a league, has done that on its own. 

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