The English have been gaga over him for years, for reasons not yet fully understood on this side of the pond. The short version is that David Beckham, along with being the master of many hairstyles, has a special talent for kicking a stationary soccer ball just where he wants it.
That’s big stuff in England, a country that has about as many sports heroes as there are sunny days at Wimbledon. Ordinarily, though, it might not cause much of a buzz among the beautiful people of Tinseltown.
But the beautiful people are nothing if not adaptable, especially when it comes to their own. Who would have thought just a few months ago that they would have cared so much about what happened to poor Paris Hilton?
Beckham, you will soon find out, is nothing if not a beautiful person. He’s got a beautiful head of hair, a beautiful wife, and a beautiful $22 million home in Beverly Hills.
Among his neighbors are his beautiful best friends, Tom and Katie.
He’s also got a beaut of a contract and endorsements that will pay him untold millions to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy, a minor league soccer team of sorts that plays in a league that is major in name only.
Beckham begins earning that contract on Friday when he makes an appearance at the Galaxy’s home field, and the perfect media storm begins to brew. A few days later, his wife’s trip to America will get more prime-time television coverage than the Beatles did when they first came over.
If you thought A-Rod’s wife craved attention, just wait until NBC airs the hourlong special “Victoria Beckham: Coming to America,” the chronicle of a rich and famous wife who gives up her rich and famous life in London to live a rich and famous life in Beverly Hills.
The former — and future — Posh Spice will be shown doing things most soccer moms do, like developing her signature line of clothing, sunglasses and perfume.
But that’s merely the beginning.
On July 21, ESPN will wave the pompoms for three hours cheering Beckham’s arrival in a show that will include everything except a concert by the Spice Girls. Adidas will run constant commercials featuring Beckham and Reggie Bush, and Motorola will pay him millions to sell phones.
Americans, whose willingness to fall for hype has never been overestimated, will undoubtedly be entranced by it all.
And then Beckham will actually play a game.
ESPN to carry
Soccer moms will swoon, and gather the kids around the TV. They’ll have plenty of angles to look at since ESPN is using 19 cameras for the exhibition match against Chelsea, including one that will be trained on the master himself the entire game.
If all goes well, someone might score a goal. If things really go well, Beckham will score a goal.
Everyone will race out to buy season tickets, and set their TiVo for a season pass of Major League Soccer.
Sure, sports and celebrity may seem like a great mix. But soccer and Americans just aren’t.
We’ve seen it before, albeit on a smaller scale, when Pele came to the United States in the 1970s to make soccer as popular as the Ford Pinto. It didn’t work then, and it didn’t work in 1999 when Brandi Chastain and the U.S. national team were hailed as saviors of the game only to see their attempt at a professional league flop miserably.
Speaking of which, has anyone seen the millions of little girls who were supposed to be converted into soccer fans by that World Cup win recently? They’re mostly grown women by now, so they shouldn’t be hard to miss.
And how about the tens of millions of boys and girls who played soccer growing up? If they’re like most kids I know, they gave it up just as quickly as they could for other sports once their parents gave them a choice.
Beckham isn’t going to change that, no matter how much ESPN, Adidas and Motorola try. Americans may be fascinated by beautiful people, but for the most part they’re bored by a game where one goal is cause for celebration and is often played so defensively that even open shots are a rarity.
People will tune in at first because they’re curious, and because Beckham will be marketed as much as the iPhone. They might even buy a few tickets to get a glimpse of his hair or to see if he can really bend it like they say.
But will they be on hand to watch the Colorado Rapids play to a 0-0 tie with the Columbus Crew?
Maybe, but don’t bet on it.
Because, in the end, they’re still likely to find soccer about as enticing as the newest Spice Girls album.
XTim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org.