Crew Cuts: The Beckham Experiment

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

David Beckham's coming to town again.

For the Columbus Crew, that means a probable packed house for Saturday's pivotal match against Beckham's Los Angeles Galaxy - one positive outcome of Beckham's bizarre tour of duty in the States.

In Grant Wahl's new book The Beckham Experiment, the Sports Illustrated writer tells the story of the Galaxy's gamble to bring the world-famous athlete and tabloid star to Major League Soccer and all the behind-the-scenes friction that followed.

The plan was to use Beckham's A-list star power to turn MLS into a nationwide sensation. Per Wahl, the experiment has failed so far because Beckham and the Galaxy haven't been able to come through where it matters most: on the pitch.

It's hard to get excited about a guy whose club can't make the playoffs in a league where more than half the teams qualify, and even harder when he's injured or otherwise absent.

Wahl wonders what might have happened had Beckham been an everyday player during his first MLS stint in 2007. The Galaxy are title contenders at last, but it may be too little, too late for the popular groundswell MLS was hoping for.

In other ways, though, Beckham's American adventure has been a boon for MLS. Billions worldwide now know the Galaxy name, logo and colors. The team's jersey is on sale alongside superclubs like Barcelona and Manchester United in shops from Europe to Southeast Asia.

There's also the attendance boost to consider. A season-high 22,685 filled Crew Stadium last October to see Becks in action. Many of them were forced to buy multi-game packages, which helped Columbus draw 19,591 for a technically meaningless match against DC United to close the regular season, a significant jump from the season average of 14,622.

Other clubs around the league have seen similar attendance improvements thanks to Beckham. The question is how many of those curious fans will stick around to become lifelong MLS supporters.

"He's brought a lot of attention to our league," said Brian Bliss, the Crew's technical director. "You're never going to retain 100 percent, just like you'll never retain 100 percent of your season ticket holders. Any eyes that were looking at the league after Beckham came, if you can retain a percentage of those that continue to look and write about the league although he may be gone at some point, it's all good."

Indeed, though it's been a failure in the short term, we may not know just how successful the Beckham experiment has been for many years to come.

Los Angeles Galaxy at Columbus Crew

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26

Where: Crew Stadium, North Side