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Star power

Sports | Will David Beckham's arrival bring about a great American soccer awakening?

Issue: "Faith-based campaigning," Jan. 27, 2007

While it may be difficult to surmise whether the arrival of international soccer star David Beckham into U.S. Major League Soccer (MLS) will help invent a mass market for soccer in the United States, it's certainly not hard to see why the superlative footballer would hop across the pond.

Move over, Alex Rodriguez: There's a new $250 million sports star. But unlike Rodriguez's 10-year baseball deal, soccer star Beckham could get $250 million over five years-all to play soccer in the United States. With a contract that could pay the former Real Madrid and Manchester United star about $1 million every week for the next five years, the MLS club L.A. Galaxy is banking on Beckham's ability to put people in the seats. To the extent Beckham does that, he will maximize his contract, which guarantees $10 million a year, plus possible endorsement and profit-sharing deals.

What makes Beckham a remarkable case is his ability to stay relevant long past what many would consider his glory days atop the soccer world. Just how far has the English star fallen on the pitch? The footballer was passed over by the English national team in December-a squad he had captained up until last year.

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One thing Beckham still has in spades: star power. Having been a consistent tabloid subject in England, it only makes sense that the famous-for-being-famous celeb would eventually wend his way to Hollywood. Predictably, entertainment reporters have spilled more ink for Beckham than the nation's sportswriters. The Hollywood angle? Some have written that Beckham got permission from wife Victoria (also known as Posh Spice from the defunct pop group Spice Girls) only after promising her another child. Some have written that the medical condition of the couple's first child forced the move. Some have focused on his new Hollywood alliance with actor Tom Cruise.

Sportswriters, on the other hand, asked whether Beckham could be a catalyst for the great soccer awakening in the United States that fans have been predicting for decades. Most are skeptical, noting the failed attempt to vitalize American soccer by bringing aging Brazilian legend Pelé to America to play in the North American Soccer League. The league folded a few years later.

Still, the L.A. Galaxy has reported their ticket sales shooting up. Among those snatching up season tickets: musicians Rod Stewart and Jennifer Lopez as well as director Steven Spielberg. And if Hollywood stars truly are, as they believe, on the cutting edge, things could be looking up not only for Beckham and his incentive-laden contract, but for soccer in America, too. But don't count on it.

Around the Horn

NFL: Entering the playoffs as a punchline, the Indianapolis Colts defense found some punch. In victories over Kansas City and San Diego, the Colts' notoriously porous defense tightened up and held off two talented offensive units. "We're having fun doing it, and showing that all the stuff in the regular season doesn't matter," said linebacker Cato June.

FOOTBALL: After a suspenseful week or two, Oklahoma football fans can officially lament: running back Adrian Peterson will be turning pro. The standout rusher said his choice to leave school for the NFL was a "business decision." He missed much of last season with a broken collarbone. "The last few days have been stressful," Peterson said. "I've been pondering a lot of things and looking at it from all the different angles. . . . I haven't been sleeping much. I just put it all in God's hands."

GOLF: The teenage sensation at the PGA's Sony Open was supposed to be 6-foot high-school senior Michelle Wie. Instead, it was 5-foot-1 Tadd Fujikawa, who made a PGA cut just three days before his 16th birthday. Fujikawa became the youngest player in 50 years to make the cut on a tour event. Though he finished nine strokes off the lead, his 20th-place finish would have earned him roughly $54,000 in prize money had he not entered as an amateur.

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