David Beckham, soccer's most influential figure, added more fuel to South Florida's hopes for landing a Major League Soccer franchise as he scouted possible stadium sites this week in Miami-Dade County.
The recently retired superstar has a $25 million option to purchase a franchise that he must exercise by the end of the year, and he has indicated that Miami is at the forefront of his plans. Rumors are rampant about where the team would play.
Marlins Park emerged as a possible temporary MLS venue until Beckham and his partners can build a soccer-specific stadium with a capacity of 20,000-30,000, which the MLS prefers.
Beckham toured the two-year-old retractable roof facility in Little Havana on Wednesday. The Marlins have declined any comment on Beckham's interest.
One industry source deeply rooted in South Florida soccer said the built-for-baseball park is not well suited to soccer, though exhibitions have been staged there. The MLS season also overlaps with the baseball season.
Although being discounted in most reports, the source said Sun Life Stadium is the most viable venue to place a MLS team, at least initially.
Sun Life has drawn huge crowds for international soccer events in recent years. Another is expected for Saturday's Brazil-Honduras match, which Beckham is expected to attend.
Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross said last month at a Bloomberg Sports Business Summit that he was interested in obtaining a MLS team for Miami.
A source close to Ross said Wednesday the organization is taking a wait-and-see approach while Beckham explores options, adding, "Our focus is on international soccer but we remain open-mind to hosting a team at Sun Life."
While an intimate setting in a soccer-only stadium is preferable, the Seattle Sounders are thriving at CenturyLink Field, where the NFL's Seahawks play, averaging 44,000. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blanks is seeking an MLS team for his new downtown stadium expected to open in 2017.
"I think there's only one place right now [in South Florida.] Sun Life was built for soccer," the industry source said. "It fits all three counties very well. Certainly it's up to MLS standards and above. I think it would be the start-up solution, with the idea of Mr. Ross having land on the same site for a soccer-specific stadium."
Bolivian-born billionaire Marcelo Claure, a potential partner of Beckham in an MLS venture, has been pushing for basing a team in the football stadium at Florida International University, where he serves on the Board of Trustees. There are a number of drawbacks to that site.
Claure previously bid for a MLS expansion franchise for Miami in collaboration with FC Barcelona before pulling out in 2009. It is unknown how that failure would play with league officials in another venture. Whatever Beckham proposes will be subject to approval by MLS.
The league has been intrigued but understandably wary of the Miami market after the failure of the Miami Fusion, which was conceived for the Orange Bowl but instead played four seasons in Fort Lauderdale before being contracted along with the Tampa Bay Mutiny in 2001.
Beckham is believed to have a numbe of investors, notably business partner Simon Fuller, the creator of "American Idol." There has been no indication that public funds would be sought to build a stadium. ___