“He wants to be involved with the Paris Saint-Germain project and we would love to have him involved in the project, for sure.”
Club Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Nasser Al Khelaifi said in an interview with France 24 in 2013, when probed on David Beckham’s retirement after winning a Ligue 1 title with Paris Saint-Germain.
Hence, the recent reports of David Beckham’s Miami franchise in investment talks with Qatari owned PSG does not come across as a surprise according to Nabil Ennasri, a PhD student at Instituts d’études politiques in France and Director of L’observatoire du Qatar – a center specializing in Qatar and it’s foreign policies.
“I do not think that this is a surprise because you need to know what motivates the sports diplomacy of the Qatar authorities. Sport is a strategic priority for the leaders of this rich Emirate as it provides strong international exposure. In the age of soft power and influential diplomacy, sport (football) has a matchless reputation. Qatar is working hard in order to break away from isolation to fit in today’s global culture which is evident as the nation has invested heavily in the late 1990’s.”
Through his time in Manchester, Madrid, Los Angeles and Paris, the English free kick specialist increased the number of trophies in his cabinet eventually growing the Beckham brand value. His $31.6 million four-year contract with Real Madrid resulted in over one million shirt sales of the legendary 23 no. kit with the Beckham replica making up to 50% of all shirt sales, during a single season alone. The five-year $250 million move to Los Angeles had an option for Beckham to invest in an MLS franchise at a discounted fee, later down the road if he wished to. Incidentally, there was an increase in average fan attendance leading to an eventual increase in the number of franchises being launched to tap into the growth of the sport across the nation.
Finally, the news of his five-month stint with Paris Saint-Germain in 2013 boosted his image across the media world, as he decided to donate all of his salary to a charity in Paris.
“I won’t receive any salary. My salary will go to a local children’s charity. That’s one of the things we are excited and proud to do,” Beckham had announced during his reveal.
Despite being at the club for a short period, his selling power was soon proven as PSG sold over 400,000 replicas beating a decade of domination by rivals l’Olympique de Marseille while on their way to winning their first French title in 19 years. However, as questionable as it maybe, the intent of a potential Qatari and Beckham partnership was thought of from a strategic perspective according to Nabil.
“The relationship between Qatar and David Beckham through PSG is already in itself a beginning of explanation. As the English midfielder was on the verge of hanging up his boots, a last right of passage came calling in Paris as the French capital offered him a last challenge and an opportunity to take to the pitch alongside some big names. So, we can say that this relationship of trust could only facilitate outreach and collaboration. For Qatar who wishes to position itself in a growing market (the MLS in the United States is expanding), the nation needed a door to enter from and Beckham was the key.”
As Qatar emerges from the shadows of cash laden neighbors like Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, recent years has witnessed the Gas rich nation invest heavily across various verticals, from automotive and financials to retailers and culture, through investment funds like Qatar Investments Authority (QIA) and in sports through Qatar Sports Investments (QSI).
And having won the right to host the esteemed FIFA World Cup in 2022, Qatar has had its fair share of critics who continue to argue against their bid with many crying foul over the labor rights of migrant construction workers.
Secondly, Qatar is yet to make their presence in the North American market in terms of exposure after their failed attempt at capturing the US audience through mass media. Al Jazeera America, owned by Qatar based Al Jazeera Media Network, recently announced that it will be shutting down by the end of April, after three years in service, citing undesirable economic conditions.
Hence, identifying sports as a venue to appease the Americans, it would only make sense to tie up with a charismatic individual who not only brings his star appeal to the deal but also possesses a likability factor among celebrities, media and fans alike, across the US. But Nabil believes there is more for Qatar to achieve from this.
“Think of it as more symbolic than anything else. Qatar will certainly ‘lose’ money given the significant amount of the initial investment (we are referring to hundreds of millions of dollars), the gains in terms of media exposure will compensate for the budgetary imbalance. In other words, Qatar gains in symbolic dividends what it loses in financial resources. It is expected that Qatar will try, as at PSG, to build a solid team around players at the end of their careers and new recruits from their esteemed training center’s – Aspire (either from Doha or from Dakar, Senegal). The nation is working towards global expansion and considering that investment from China in football; there is a strong reason to believe that the commercial side of football will continue to enjoy a strong growth. Qatar does not wish to be left behind.”
Fans of the recently established franchise have concurred with the thought of the two partnering together.
“The news of QSI joining MBU was well accepted by the fan club as a whole. We needed and additional financial partner and it’s a huge bonus that the partner also happens to be yet another giant in the soccer community,” said Julio Caballero President of the Southern Legion, a growing supporters group for the Miami team.
In 2014, Beckham exercised his option of owning a Miami based Major League Soccer franchise along with business partners Simon Fuller, Tim Leiweke and Bolivian businessman Marcelo Claure forming the ownership group Miami Beckham United, at a fee of $20 million, a significantly discounted rate compared to the $100 million paid by each of the recently formed franchises in Portland, Montreal, Vancouver and Orlando.
Since then, the franchise had been approached by several prospective partners with strong interest from the likes of FC Barcelona at initial stages, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich along with consortiums based in China, Middle East and within US. But the recent approach by PSG is the most profiled contacts as the French side identify Beckham as the perfect partner to firmly place the Ligue 1 Champions on the map as a major European partner, eventually benefiting Qatar on a broader perspective. Add the fact that Beckham recently recognized Qatar’s right to host a World Cup in a recent interview with Radio Times, “They’ll make it work. They will make a World Cup work in that part of the world,” ultimately highlights the synergy in the making between the two.
A major wild card in the play here is the access to a stadium, which is mandatory by the MLS before any new franchise can kick off league play. Beckham and Co. has had no success in gaining popular vote from the city and its inhabitants from securing a preferable location in Miami. After three unsuccessful attempts, the group were finally able to secure a nine-acre site in the Overtown neighborhood in Downtown Miami.
Julio however, is concerned in which MLS has responded to the city’s need for a football team.
“We are very confident MBU will be given the next MLS expansion spot, but we are concerned the time frame could potentially drag on as the business deal continues to progress. To be perfectly honest, we don’t know why MLS hasn’t already granted us a team since we are current ahead of where LA, New York and Orlando were when they were granted expansion teams,” said Julio.
Though any potential partnership between the two is up in the air at the moment, Miami Beckham United understands the need of a partner that can be strategic to the club, city and the league, based on a recently released statement.
“As Miami Beckham United lays the groundwork for launching a world-class soccer club in Miami, our team has attracted interest from a number of potential partners. David Beckham, Simon Fuller and Marcelo Claure are evaluating these possibilities, with the goal of bringing additional resources and international expertise that draws players, staff and fans from around the world. Any potential partner will share our team’s vision of creating a team that makes Miami and MLS proud. At the same time, we are performing due diligence on our stadium site as we move toward finalizing the acquisition of two privately-held properties and a third County-owned parcel over the coming weeks.”
As it stands, Qatar’s government via Paris Saint-Germain is convinced on the important role of sports in its rise as a regional leader and increased access to the North American market will only confirm that which is vital to the nation’s ability to spread its economy.
“As the Qataris are on the lookout for new spaces and innovative partnerships to strengthen their authority in sports, any partnership with the Miami side especially through David Beckham, is an opportunity of a lifetime that Qatar cannot afford to ignore,” says Nabil.
For the Miami Beckham United group, they are aware of Qatar’s exceptional interest in the United States and also realize the depths to which one man can help Qatar achieve that goal. Only time will tell if we will see brands like Qatar Airways and Aspire on hoardings in and around Miami.