MIAMI David Beckham said the prospect of owning an Major League Football team in Miami was "exciting" after he was urged to help bring a new franchise to Miami at a meeting with key political leaders on Saturday.
Beckham, accompanied by Bolivian born billionaire Marcelo Claure, who wants to team-up with him in owning a new franchise, visited two potential stadiums and met with the mayor of Miami-Dade County Carlos Gimenez, who handed him the keys to the county.
The former England captain, who retired from football last month, played in MLS with L.A. Galaxy and his contract included an option to create a new team for $25 million and he is understood to have other locations in mind as well.
But Beckham sounded positive about the chances of taking his step into club ownership in Miami.
"I think bringing an MLS team here to South Florida would be... it's exciting," Beckham told CBS4 News television.
"I think Miami fans are very passionate about their sports and very passionate about winning and of course, it would have to be success but it's definitely exciting," he said.
Miami Dade County commissioner Jose ‘Pepe' Diaz said there was real backing for a team in Miami.
"There is huge political support. It is not only from the county, it's 100 percent support from the municipalities, the mayors and the commissioner, the counsellors from the different cities, they are also extremely supportive," he told Reuters.
Beckham visited Sun Life stadium, home to the NFL's Miami Dolphins, whose owner Stephen Ross recently set up a football division, and met with the Dolphins chief executive Mike Dee.
Sun Life holds around 75,000 fans and has hosted several international friendlies in recent years but may be considered overly large for an MLS team.
Together with British entrepreneur Simon Fuller, whose management company 19 Entertainment, handles Beckham's business affairs, Beckham later visited a 20,000 stadium at Florida International University (FIU).
Claure, owner of Bolivian club Bolivar, is a member of the board of trustees of FIU and has previously promoted the idea of an MLS team playing at the venue.
The FIU stadium underwent major renovations in 2007 and is home to the University's American football team.
Jose Sotolongo, the executive director of the Miami-Dade Sports Commission, was among those who met with Beckham and said he had no doubt the city was ready for a top flight football team.
"We know that our community can support not only the international football (friendlies) that have been coming to Miami for a while now, but that it would support an MLS franchise," he told Reuters.
"The city of Miami has a very international fan base and a very football savvy fan base. This is the kind of ownership group that would electrify the community and hopefully we will get good news," he said.
Beckham also met with representatives of a fan group which has been campaigning for a team to come to the city.
Julio Caballero, spokesman for the group, who call themselves MLS Miami Bid, said there was a positive mood among the fans.
"I feel really good about it, it looks really positive. It is pretty much down to Beckham now, I have heard he will make his decision inside 90 days," he said.
"Beckham will bring something spectacular here - not just his name, but a class organisation to Miami. Claure knows how to run a club. The two together is just what Miami needs for football."
The city briefly had an MLS team, the Miami Fusion, who played in neighbouring Fort Lauderdale and joined MLS in 1998 but were closed by the, then, struggling league after four seasons.
The only professional team in the area is the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, who play in the second tier North American Football League, and owner Aaron Davidson said that while he would be open to meeting with Beckham they would take on the challenge of another team if one emerged.
"It is great that people showing interest in South Florida football. We would be happy to talk to him, but ultimately if he decides to do something in South Florida without us, we look forward to the rivalry," he said.
(Editing by Julian Linden)