TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – David Beckham brought his international star power to the halls of the Florida Capitol on Tuesday, trying to rally support from the governor and legislators for the professional soccer franchise he plans to bring to Miami later this decade.
Beckham was mobbed by legislators and legislative aides during his visit as they took to social media to document his visit. Even Gov. Rick Scott took a “selfie” of himself with Beckham.
Beckham made no secret that he wants to tap into state subsidies like most of the state’s other professional teams have done. The Florida Legislature is advancing a bill this year that would create a process that lets pro sports teams compete for a share of state tax dollars in the future.
“No one’s promised me anything,” Beckham said about his brief visit. “But they promised me that they support having the team in Miami and are excited about that. It’s good that they haven’t promised me anything, because then I know it’s going to be fair and the decision will be down to what they think is best for the state.”
The 38-year-old Beckham who played for soccer powerhouses such as Manchester United said he never before had visited Tallahassee which has a much more Old South feel than cosmopolitan Miami.
“It’s going to sound silly and people are probably going to laugh at me but I love the moss on the trees,” Beckham. “I’ve only seen it in scary movies. I’ve never seen it close up.”
Beckham’s visit to the Capitol came a day after his architects and advisers recommended the Port of Miami as the stadium site for his team. The plan announced Monday would have an open-air stadium with views of the bay and the downtown skyline. The capacity could be as low as 21,000 or as high as 35,000.
He was escorted around the Capitol by high-powered lobbyist Brian Ballard, who has been a major fundraiser for Republicans. Under the proposed bill, pro teams could qualify for as much as $2 million a year depending on how much the team invests in the project. A similar bill was considered last year, but it was never considered by the Florida House because initially it included help for the Miami Dolphins.
Scott said on Tuesday he can support a sports incentives bill as long as it has safeguards to ensure a return on investment, including a provision to pay back the state if the pro team doesn’t generate as much money as anticipated.
“It’s exciting he wants to invest in Florida,” said Scott about his meeting with Beckham.
A spokesman for House Speaker Will Weatherford called the meeting “informational” and said the speaker stressed his support for a bill that would create a process to guide future professional team subsidies. Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando and in line to become the next Senate president, said he and Beckham primarily discussed Orlando’s Major League Soccer franchise that is expected to start playing next year.
Beckham said he’s confident that Florida can support two franchises especially since the league is “stable” now. The league previously had two teams in the state.
“I think at the end of the day we want a rivalry,” Beckham said.
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