(Reuters) - Major League Soccer would love to see a new franchise in Miami backed by David Beckham but there will not be a new team in South Beach until a stadium deal is in place, commissioner Don Garber said on Tuesday.
Garber repeatedly emphasized that MLS is keen to work with Beckham but was equally firm that it will not bend rules for the former England captain and that a stadium deal must be in place before an expansion franchise is awarded.
“We can’t go to Miami without the right stadium solution,” Garber said during his state of the league address ahead of Saturday’s MLS Cup final in Kansas City. “David understands that, the city understands that, that is an indisputable fact.”
The charismatic Beckham and trendy Miami always seemed the perfect fit to bring professional soccer back to a city where the sport has twice before failed to take root.
But Beckham’s considerable charm is being put to the test in Miami as he assembles an ownership group that still needs to buy a franchise and build a stadium the team will call home.
Finding the right location for a stadium and financing is not easy in Miami. Taxpayers have soured on publicly-financed stadium deals after a $500 million stadium with a retractable roof for Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins failed to draw fans.
The state legislature rebuffed a request from the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins for public funding of a $350 million renovation of its privately owned stadium.
“We are very excited about the opportunity of having David put together an ownership group and finalizing a stadium site in downtown Miami so that we can end up having what we hope will be our 22nd team in a city that is one of the largest in the country and has a very strong, passionate fan base but there is a lot of word that needs to happen,” said Garber.
“Part of that is continuing the discussions that the ownership group has been having with the city and the port site and potentially other sites.”
The league will hold a board meeting on Friday but Garber confirmed that the Beckham group will not be presenting a specific proposal for approval.
Last month, Orlando became the league’s 21st franchise and will begin play in 2015, adding more speculation that Miami would soon follow with MLS’s ambitious plans to expand to 24 teams by 2020.
But Arthur Blank, owner of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, may have jumped to the front of the queue ahead of Beckham.
”With Atlanta we have finalized the stadium situation,“ said Garber. ”We have to continue to work hard with Atlanta to make sure this whole project makes sense for them but I am encouraged by the discussions.
”Atlanta is a big market, we need to be in the southeast and if we can continue advance our discussions positively with Arthur and the Falcons we hope to be able to get a situation finalized.
“That could potentially be our second team, Orlando being the first.”
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue