MIAMI – David Beckham showed up to the flashy unveiling of his latest project with little more than the smile on his face and hopeful words rattling around in his brain. He couldn't rely on concrete details to make his case. He needed to sell the vision of an MLS team in Miami by selling himself.
Beckham possesses more than a little practice in this particular art and rises to the occasion each and every time. He knows his strengths by now and uses them wisely. He turned on the charm. He hit all the right notes. He leaned into the nonsense when it inevitably arrived. He covered up the uncertainty as best he could with his earnest demeanor and sketched the outline of what he could bring Miami if given the chance to do so.
It was, by most accounts, a virtuoso performance designed to spur support to bring his expansion team to Miami by 2017. In a town filled with and seduced by stars, Beckham burned brightest on Wednesday. He played a modest hand brilliantly to generate support for the long road ahead.
Only Beckham boasts the intoxicating blend of awareness, engagement, savvy and wattage to navigate through the morass waiting for him and then succeed once he emerges from it with a stadium plan in place. Miami still harbors anger and remorse for the taxpayer's finance used to build the often-empty Marlins Park. The prospect of leasing a prime piece of county land on the waterfront for a soccer venue inevitably generates some consternation within the community. Beckham addressed the latent concerns promptly and soothed the worries with a few calming words.
"We don't want public funding," Beckham said. "We will fund the stadium ourselves. It's something that we have worked very hard to get to this stage, where we can fund the stadium ourselves. We've had some great work from the [Miami-Dade County] mayor [Carlos Gimenez], Don [Garber, MLS commissioner] and, obviously, the [county] commissioners. The support we've had so far is incredible. We want to create a stadium, a soccer team, a football club that is the people's football club. It is as simple as that."
Populism and identification fueled much of Beckham's message. He discussed the need for passionate investors to build a club focused on the game and the community, not the bottom line. He highlighted his commitment to his family. He lavished praise on the city and its fans. He noted the increasing interest in the league and tempted the congregation with tales of top-level players reaching out about playing in Miami one day.
Video: Don Garber joins Crowd Goes Wild
Each successive entreaty curried favor in a situation where every piece of goodwill counts. Beckham needs a firm stadium plan and a solid investment group before the MLS Board of Governors will acquiesce to his desire to place a team in Miami. Those details are not in place right now. It will take some time to pull them together.
Beckham knows the landscape and understands the tenuous situation. At this point, his message is simple: trust me to do the right thing.
"There are obviously a lot of people that are going to want to know what we're doing and how we're doing it," Beckham said. "But we have the answers. We're honest people. We will be honest with people. We have been so far. We will continue to be."
Honesty extends to the realities of the situation. Beckham - not Simon Fuller, not Marcelo Claure, not Don Garber, not anyone else involved now or later in this project - bears the public responsibility for its success or failure. It is the burden he shoulders for his stardom and his willingness to deploy his appeal in this fashion.
Beckham has proven capable time and time again in these sorts of scenarios on the field, though never to this extent off it. He must convince and persuade. He must reveal his allies - LeBron James, for instance - at the right junctures to sustain the momentum. He must rely on his genial demeanor and widespread popularity to smooth over any fissures. He must remember how much he must prove about this city and its desire to support a team over the next few years.
"What can we do? There's a lot of things to do," Beckham said. "But, like I said, nothing successful is easy in life. There are going to be bumps along the way. There's going to be difficult times, but there will be more fun times and exciting times than difficult times. I've learned over the years that you have to go through certain tough times to come out in the end and be successful."
Nothing about this first step proved particularly arduous for a polished pitchman more than capable of handling the strain. The hard work looms in the months and the years ahead to combine style and substance and transform dream into reality. Those transitions serve as Beckham's stock in trade now and forever. Leave it to him to convert the political capital he generates to procure the club and the stadium he so desperately craves. And when he does, he should consider it another personal sales job ever so well done.