The David Beckham public relations machine is in overdrive since the recent announcement that he will play for the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team. The news wires and broadcast waves hummed with news that Becks and spice-spouse, Victoria, will move to LA. Fans waxed lyrical on their blogs and vlogs. Becks’ friend and fan Tom Cruise was apparently consulted before Becks made his decision and Sylvester Stallone welcomed the move as the best thing for LA Galaxy. Others, including David Beckham himself, welcomed the move as the best thing for soccer in America.
The price tag is US$50 million per year for five years. It’s the sporting world’s biggest contract – ever. This puts Becks in a league of his own. But does it really mean he is better than Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Jessie Owens, Babe Ruth and other great athletes past and present? Those sports stars were legends whose achievements endured and inspired generations.
Even within the world of soccer, Becks doesn’t seem to be in the same league as some others. He is certainly left in the dust by legends of the past like Brazil’s Pele, Northern Ireland’s George Best and Argentina’s Maradona. But he’s not even in the same league as contemporaries like France’s Zinedine Zidane or Brazil’s Ronaldo.
So what is the LA Galaxy getting for its US$250 million? No doubt its coaches and managers know they are not getting a top-rated world player. It has been some time since Becks was able to claim such honours. Apart from one goal scored against the Greek team in a World Cup qualifier last year, Beckham’s performance was lacklustre. Even his new team of Real Madrid has had him sitting on the bench during recent matches. At 31, Becks is heading into his sunset years. This hardly makes him the man to save LA Galaxy or invigorate American soccer.
The truth of the matter has little to do with sport; it is all about money. It is about the pulling power of Beckham and the money that LA Galaxy hopes to make from the merchandising that will follow.
Probably the best commentary about Becks’ move to Tinseltown came from entertainment writer John Doyle of Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. He points out that the angle in the Los Angeles Times’ reporting was not soccer but “fame and frivolity”. Ditto with other media. They have simply gone ga-ga, with female reporters acting like love-struck teenieboppers (I actually heard one female TV anchor gush, “He’s sooooo handsome.”) Their male colleagues have focused on the size of Becks’ pay cheque.
Sadly, modern celebrity is based on neither talent nor character. Blond hair, good looks and a willingness to do anything in front of the camera seem to be all that is required. Just consider the notorious air-head Paris Hilton and others of her ilk. Now that the Beckhams are moving to La-la Land, we can expect to see them in bizarre TV shows. With the PR and marketing gurus panting after a cut of that $250 million, there will probably even be a movie. Spin is out; bending it like Beckham is in.
Have the owners of LA Galaxy forgotten anything? Perhaps the words of baseball great Babe Ruth: “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” It’ll be interesting to see if Becks fits in better with his new team than he did at Real Madrid. And Becks should reflect on some other words of Babe Ruth: “All ball players should quit when it starts to feel as if all the baselines run uphill.”
Actually, Becks and his wife Posh would do the world a big favour by retiring gracefully rather than continuing to inflict their lack of talent and intellect on the rest of us.
Alistair J. Nicholas is the Managing Director of AC Capital Strategic Public Relations and editor of the blog Off The Record.