Paolo Maldini Ahead of Ex-Teammate Beckham in Miami Soccer Race

Updated on
  • Beckham project remains stalled while seeking stadium site
  • U.S. soccer needs revamp to grow, NASL's Peterson says

While David Beckham continues to look for a Miami home for his planned soccer franchise, former AC Milan teammate Paolo Maldini is avoiding such efforts.

Maldini, a five-time European Cup-winning defender, this week was announced as an investor in Miami Football Club of the North American Soccer League, widely considered U.S. soccer’s second-tier competition.

Beckham’s plans for a Major League Soccer team in the city have been delayed by difficulties in finding a site for a new stadium. Maldini’s group says it will have a team playing as soon as next year and isn’t planning to build a stadium. The club will be the fourth Florida-based team in the 12-team NASL that debuted in 2009.

“It’s a state that has 20 million people and is larger than some countries that have their own leagues,” NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson said Friday in a phone interview. “Our goal is to get to 20 teams.”

Beckham first announced in February 2014 that he planned to bring an MLS franchise to Miami.

“If David comes to Miami all the better,” said Peterson. “It raises the profile of everybody that’s playing.”

Maldini, whose group includes Italian sports rights entrepreneur Riccardo Silva, said he hopes to tap into growing interest in soccer in the U.S., which peaked during last year’s World Cup.

“I strongly believe in the growth of soccer in USA, and this is the perfect project to develop a top-class soccer team in one of the most important cities of the world,” he said.

The finances involved with the five-year-old NASL, a rebranding of the soccer league made famous by Pele and Franz Beckenbauer in the 1970s and ’80s, are a fraction of those involved in the MLS. Franchise fees for the top-tier MLS are more than $100 million, while Peterson said the Maldini group’s investment is in the “single-digit millions.”

That’s not all that’s different about the two leagues. MLS has a shared ownership model, while NASL investors own teams outright in a model similar to that used in the English Premier League, the sport’s richest competition.

Unlike in most soccer leagues around the world, in the U.S. there is no promotion or relegation, meaning teams from different competitions are restricted to facing each other in domestic or international competitions.

Garber has long resisted the idea of introducing a pyramid system for U.S. soccer. Peterson, an advocate, says it’s the only way the sport can continue its growth.

“We have to keep all our options open and do what’s best for development of the game,” he said. “We shouldn’t be limiting ourselves at this stage.”

Attendance at NASL games is growing, but remains significantly less than that of the MLS. Indianapolis-based Indy Eleven is the best-supported team and regularly plays before soldout crowds of 11,000. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers, whose Brazilian owners include World Cup winner Ronaldo, attracts about 5,000 supporters, according to Peterson.

The NASL’s matches are followed mainly online via a streaming agreement with ESPN. Viewership is up 350 percent from last year, according to the league.

Soccer in the U.S. may get a further boost in 2026 amid speculation the country will be a contender to host the World Cup, sport’s most-watched event.