David Beckham's Miami venture a big risk, say experts
Critics are saying the brand name and bling might not be enough to see city rise from ashes after having two football teams fold there in the past
The worst place in the United States for soccer. The biggest challenge in sport.
Those were the reactions from two high-profile figures in US football to David Beckham's widely anticipated announcement on Wednesday that he is to build a club from scratch in Miami.
The former Manchester United and England player, together with an investment group that could yet include Miami Heat basketball icon LeBron James, is forking out a reported US$25 million for the ambitious Major League Soccer franchise.
The MLS is hoping the ex-England captain and his new team - who are not expected to be playing until 2017 at the earliest - can increase the appetite for soccer in a country that still finds the "beautiful game" something of a turnoff.
Beckham said he was under no illusions as to the scale of the task in an area that has already seen the demise of two soccer clubs: Miami Fusion and Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
"He's picked the worst possible city for this franchise," said Rodney Marsh, a former Manchester City striker who finished his career and managed in the US in the 1970s and 80s.
Marsh, who is still heavily involved in United States football, said the Fusion struggled to get enough fans through the gates, despite signing renowned Colombian Carlos Valderrama to attract Miami's large Hispanic community.
Hemorrhaging money, the Fusion folded more than a decade ago, leaving Miami without a top-level football team.
Marsh said: "It's a lot more than David Beckham coming in, getting a few players and throwing them together. I hope it's going to work. But it's going to take a lot more work than even David thinks.
"I'm sure he'll attract a lot of people, but people don't come to watch the owner. They come to watch the players. It doesn't matter that David Beckham is the owner."
Marsh said he does not believe that football is any more popular in the US than it was 30 years ago and says Miami will be particularly hard to crack because it has so many professional sports teams already.
Ray Hudson knows better than anyone what will happen if Beckham's as-yet-unnamed team fail to spark the Miami public's interest beyond an eye-catching press conference at a downtown art museum.
The Englishman was manager of the Fusion shortly before it was dissolved.
"It's the biggest challenge in sports I can imagine," Hudson said. "With the history of sports in this area, it's sufficient to put anyone off. The bling of Beckham is not going to be enough. It's not going to be," he said , nevertheless giving the initiative "an absolute fair chance to rise above and succeed" because of Beckham's name.
"I think this community now is so ready and when they look at how MLS has succeeded in other marketplaces they'll want to have that gameday event and gameday experience.
"We're watching PSG, Real Madrid and Barcelona (on television) and it's fantastic, but it isn't the smell of the stadium - and people miss that."
Many experts believe that Miami's Hispanic or Latino residents - about two-thirds of the city's population - hold the key, although prominent among them are Cubans, who traditionally go in for baseball and not soccer. Recent exhibition matches in Miami involving international teams have drawn crowds of 67,000 and 71,000.
The Miami-Fort Lauderdale region was also the highest-rated television market in the United States for the 2010 World Cup.
"I know this city is ready for football, soccer, this time around," Beckham said.
Critics said his announcement was big on show but lacked specifics: as well as no team name, there is no confirmed site yet for a stadium.
Asked in Spanish - translated into English - if he had a vision for getting Miami's diverse range of residents behind his pet project, Beckham said: "Umm, my plan?
"We will want to bring some of the best players in football to Miami to play in this team. I've seen what happens to teams when you bring great players in - I'm talking about the Heat.
"We want local talent, local children and local players that believe they can play in the MLS."