- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- Five years later, the goals have become more focused while the expectations have become more realistic.
When David Beckham was first introduced as a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007, his news conference was more of a coronation than an introduction.
It was held on the Home Depot Center field in front of thousands of Galaxy fans on a sun-kissed afternoon in July. Confetti rained over Beckham as he walked up to the podium while fans sang, "There's only one David Beckham!"
Beckham was supposed to change the way Americans viewed soccer. He was supposed to make a country that was apathetic about the sport suddenly passionate about it with his mere presence.
Back then his PR team revealed Beckham was coming to the United States for a five-year deal worth $250 million. The figure was later revealed to be an exaggeration to draw attention to the move and included his off-the-field endorsements. His actual Galaxy contract was about $32.5 million over five years.
Fast forward five years, and Beckham's news conference Thursday to announce he was re-signing with the Galaxy was held in the bowels of Staples Center without any confetti or chanting fans. The terms of Beckham's two-year deal were not revealed, but it was confirmed to be for less than the 18-month, $18.9 million contract he was reportedly offered by Paris Saint-Germain.
Not only was the announcement tempered but so were the expectations attached to it.
When Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of AEG, first signed Beckham, his goals were obviously lofty. There were plans for academies and clinics and nationwide tours to spread and grow the Beckham brand. This wasn't so much a player signing with a single team but a player signing to change an entire country.
The goal now is no longer to change the country's view of soccer with a single player but perhaps with one super team.
Leiweke wants to make the Los Angeles Galaxy a recognizable global brand and the greatest soccer team the United States has ever produced. (Sorry Pele, they have their sights on your New York Cosmos.)
Soccer fans in Europe, Asia and Africa might not be able to rattle off all the teams and players in Major League Soccer, but the plan is for them to know the Galaxy. They want them to know their top two or three players such as Beckham, Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan and maybe even their coach, Bruce Arena.
It's a more sustainable model for the gradual growth of the sport in the United States and the league's growth worldwide and not entirely out of the realm of possibility given the Galaxy's success last season in winning the MLS Cup.
"When I grew up, you always heard about the legendary Cosmos and the impact they made on soccer," Leiweke said. "Even today there are people that argue the Cosmos are the greatest brand in soccer, ever. I want the Galaxy to be the greatest brand in soccer, ever. That's the legacy we're trying to create right now with David, Landon, Robbie, Bruce and our team, that's our goal. We're not just trying to win the [MLS] Cup. We're driven to set a new a tone, a new level and a new platform for this brand and this team worldwide and internationally."
The Galaxy plans to build their brand globally by continuing to play exhibitions around the world, as they did when they toured Indonesia, Philippines and Australia after winning the MLS Cup. They will also continue to play top-flight teams at home, as they did last season against Real Madrid and Manchester City. They will also continue to sign international talent that will attract international media at home and aboard.
It's a game plan that has worked for the Galaxy not only on the field but off the field. The number of international media outlets covering their games has increased, and they recently signed a 10-year, $55 million television contract with Time Warner. Leiweke is hopeful other MLS clubs will follow the Galaxy's lead to help grow the sport and not simply put it on the back of one player or one team.
"We challenge the rest of the league to rise to the occasion like us," Leiweke said. "Join us and be right there with us and compete with us and aspire to be that good. Challenge us on if we're going to be the best brand ever and prove us wrong and I hope you do. We challenge every other club to now come to this level and join us and spend the money and go get the players that at the end of the day will change this sport forever."
Beckham has already sensed the change around the world over the past year. Suddenly the fact that one of the most recognizable athletes in the world plays in MLS is not such an anomaly because many have become familiar with the Galaxy and his teammates. Beckham has not only committed to playing the next two years with the Galaxy but also plans to exercise an option to own a MLS franchise when he retires.
"I want to continue to be a part of this because I do feel the change," Beckham said. "In this last year I have felt the change and I will continue to work hard to make this game grow and I'm sure there will be other players that will help make this game bigger in this country. I don't believe my job is finished and that is one of the reasons I wanted to stay."
By the time Beckham retires and moves into the front office of his very own MLS franchise, Leiweke is hopeful MLS will be well on its way to worldwide respect and the Galaxy in particular will have established itself as one of the most well-known soccer brands not just nationally, but internationally.
"I want people 50 years from now, people to talk about the Los Angeles Galaxy as the greatest [soccer] team in the history of the United States," Leiweke said. "There are not a lot of clubs that can have this conversation. People can say that it's hype but it's not. We can do that and we understand that. We have a unique opportunity to build a brand that people will be talking about for years."
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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