Thursday, January 18, 2007

It's Not Beckham the Player, It's the Beckham Rule

I was perusing Deadspin for the first time this week, and I saw that IDYFT favorite Fan's Attic got linked in the Blogdome about why Beckham isn't bad for the MLS. So I went ahead, and read that post. And you should too. Fan's Attic summarizes nicely the positives about the Beckham move.

So here's the thing--Fan's Attic is right, for the most part. Beckham will get asses in the seat. He will get people who enjoy soccer to actually watch the MLS every once in awhile. And his contract isn't actually $250,000,000. That was a bit of showmanship from the MLS that kind of bit them in the ass. It is more like $50,000,000, plus a lot of sponsorship deals paid by 3rd parties. For the intents of this response, let's just talk about that $50 million, which is still several, several times over what even the highest paid American player makes in MLS. Also, it should be mentioned, as it was in the article I linked to above, that Beckham is probably going to drive up the value of the new Galaxy kit, which will have sponsors on it, like in the European leagues.

Ah, and now, finally to my headline--I don't have a problem with signing a big name player on his decline and maybe with something to prove. I don't have a problem with signing him to an incredibly large deal. I have a problem with how the rule that brought Beckham over here is formulated, and what that means for other teams in the MLS.

1. The Beckham rule was an act of impetuousness, not long-term planning

The only reason this rule (and we'll get into the ugly particulars shortly) was passed was because MLS sensed a chance to get Beckham into the fold. Back (way back in '06) when it was being voted on by the MLS leadership (a small and insular bunch) it was called the Beckham Rule. Everyone who voted on the passing of this rule knew what it meant. And it wasn't to pry Claudio Reyna from the rather disinterested hands of Manchester City. My theory is that MLS sensed a moment, and opportunity, to grab a big name player (really, an impossibly big name player) before he proved himself in some second division English squad, or agreed to less money in Spain, or Italy, or even Germany or (ick) France. Plenty of men in Beckham's position would have signed with one of those leagues, even if it meant swallowing some pride. But Beckham is a special beast, and MLS knew it. He's a guy on a downward turn, but not by any means necessarily old, for the type of soccer he plays. And he wanted to be in LA, and LA wanted Beckham there. The rest of the league said, "Beckham could be in our league." That's the single reason this rule passed. That's not long term thinking, and the other aspects of this rule confirm that. Its quite unlike MLS in that regard. They've been very careful to avoid the short-term gain, long-term losses of the NASL. Is there a worse place than LA to build loyalty to a team via players (outside of Atlanta)? Yes, Beckham will sell out seats. But if he is great for 2 years, and then retires, will those fans keep coming to watch the fucking Galaxy? I guarantee you that they will not, unless the Galaxy, and the league as a whole, makes some serious strides. And it seems they've gone out of there way to make sure they can't possibly make those strides.

2. The Beckham Rule Caps players, not money. It punishes savvy GM's.

If I were Houston, I'd be pissed about this. The rule is that MLS, as an entity, will pay any salary up to $400,000. It states as well that no team can have more than 1 player over that salary, no matter how much money the team is willing to spend. It does say that one team can trade its exemption to another team, but no more than once. So, at any time, there will never be an MLS team with more than two players making over $400,000. Now, LA did the smart thing in that rule structure (that they helped define) by signing an audaciously large personality, going far, far over the cap. They have the money to do so, they have the lure, and they they have the fucking money! Would Beckham have signed with Houston, Columbus, Kansas City, or Toronto? Of course not. Who would sign would those teams?

But those GM's who might say to themselves, "You know for $40 million dollars, I could probably sign 20 young and raw but exciting players from South America and Africa" the answer is a solid NO from the Beckham rule. No more than two players over $400,000, and you have to trade the exemption spot to get up to two players!

In what world does that makes sense? If I were the Colorado Rapids, and I wanted to sign fucking Rivaldo and Matt Le Tissier to one year, $500,000 contracts, I couldn't. Because that's somehow more damaging to US soccer than a 5 year, $40 million dollar contract.

How is it? I don't fucking know. That's a crazy situation I've posited there, only because Rivaldo and Le Tissier are sucking back Long Island Ice Teas on the Isle of Corfu and getting their balls tickled by well paid young women who feign interest.

But at this moment, a smart club, sending a scout down to South America or to Africa who discovers two talents worth $500,000 would have to choose between the two, even though the two combined would equal less than 1/40th of Beckham's contract.

Now, many of you might be saying, "Hey, lots of leagues work that way--Turkish basketball leagues limit the number of Americans; Japanese soccer leagues limit the number of Europeans; etc."

Good point, except that none of those leagues limit to One Player. And also (and one of the worst by-products of a poorly worked Beckham rule follows:)

3. The Beckham rule does not exempt American players. Say it again The Beckham rule does NOT exempt American players.

Yes, there are some MLS players who are currently making over $400,000. They will not count as the player over the cap right away--they will be grandfathered in to start, but they will eventually count against the One Player cap. Landon Donovan, for example, would count starting in 2008. And Donovan plays for the Galaxy. This rule isn't about keeping the league American, clearly. The Brains Behind MLS didn't even think to make an exemption for American players; or they did, and decided that if LA was going to sign Beckham, they wanted to pry Donovan from their hands. The more likely effect is that Americans who could have been signed for $600,000 won't be signed, in the hopes of snagging some million dollar player from Europe. And that young American player finds himself on a fucking practice squad in England, getting no real game experience, which is what the MLS was supposed to be all about. Meanwhile, middle of the road players who have garnered absolutely no interest in Europe, like Jason Kreis, Brian Ching, and countless others, will ply their wares in the MLS.

4. This Rule Doesn't Spur American Interest in the Long Run

Yes, Beckham is a special personality, if not player (I happen to think he could be a special player, which is why I say the problem isn't him). But for every team that has $40 million dollars to spend on one player, there is another team that has $5 million dollars to recruit 10 young and talented players that no one has ever heard of. I'll tell you what--if I have a choice to watch an MLS team made up of the most talented youngsters the World over, playing for one year, and $500,000, and a chance to make the Premiership, or a team with one guy who is famous, I'll take the fun, attacking, young team every time. And that team would beat David Beckham's Galaxy almost every time. The MLS, in its infinite wisdom, has made sure that team could never exist.

5. US Talent is at a Nadir
By many accounts, this is the weakest group of NCAA soccer players eligible for the MLS draft in recent memory. Clint Dempsey, the one solidly good US player from the 2006 World Cup is off to the Premiership. Fan's Attic hit this point--the MLS is spectacularly lacking in talent. It is ugly soccer. You are going to have a more enjoyable time going to your local high school or college game than watching MLS on the TV. The answer to that is to limit the ability of teams to recruit talent outside the US, and to push super talented Americans out of the league?

6. Team Loyalty, not Player Loyalty

Look to Real (where Becks came from) or Chelsea (where world class, but over 30 years old Andiry Shevencho is being accused of being a spy for the Russian owner) and the answer is obvious, world over--you can put famous people in your kit, but if you want to build true fan loyalty, you need to be known as a team that finds great young talent. And the Beckham rule hamstrings teams--it forces them to find one great player. It's a fucking stupid rule, and the MLS needs to fix it.

Will they fix it in time? That's the question. Beckham isn't the problem. The Beckham Rule--That's the Problem.


Grant said...

That is the single best piece of commentary I've seen on the Beckham signing yet. And people wonder why I read blogs...

LButler36 said...

This is the first I've heard about the contract not really being 250mil, but actually only 50. can somebody try to explain this?

adam said...

Grant Wahl had a great article on this week breaking down the entire Becks contract and how much its really worth. It should still be up there, if you want the contract info.

LButler36 said...

At this point in the league's development, I think it is in the best interest of American soccer as a whole for our best players to go to Europe to try to make their mark. Donovan tried, and couldn't break out so he came back. Dempsey is leaving this year, and I think it is the best thing for him. He is more a European style player, and will only get better by playing with better competition. Personally, I think he is probably the best American player, as far as skills are concerned and was very disappointed to see him get so little PT in the World Cup, but it is most likely due to his style of play not fitting in the style American team and Arena not knowing how to use him. A few years in the EPL will make Dempsey better, get the English interested in American soccer players other than goalies, and hopefully help build our national team and further down the line, the MLS.

Big Blue Monkey said...

I should have explicity stated that I was linking to Grant's piece. LButler, if you just click the link on the $50 mil, you'll get there. It explains as well as anyone can, I think.

Jerious Norwood said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LButler36 said...

Ya, I got it, good read.

Anonymous said...

The whole point of the league structure is to keep player costs down -- that's why they don't want competitions between teams to sign lots of players for 500k.

It's wrong to say that they signed one for 10 million, so they could just spread that money. Beckham brings in so much money that the economics of the deal are different than for any other player.

Over time, we'll be able to pay more money and get better players. For now, good yound American players are available for under 400k (well under 400k). Given the 2 million yearly max, teams will probably even do best if they don't spend 400k on any one player (see the comments by DC United's management).

The Fan's Attic said...

thanks for the shoutout. good points that i hadn't thought about for the "beckham rule" but i agree with anonymous that the rules in general are intended to keep costs from spiraling out of control and i can't say that i know the business/finance side of the MLS better than its investors and maybe this works for them based on the revenue and expenses of the league. it would be interesting to see more the financial side of the league.