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Last Updated: Monday, 23 July 2007, 07:08 GMT 08:08 UK
LA pitfalls awaiting Beckham
By Andrew Benson

David Beckham trains with LA Galaxy
Can Beckham "break" the US and keep his football career on track?
If David Beckham wants to know just how big a task he faces in his professed aim of establishing football in the US, he only has to look at the viewing figures.

Major League Soccer is shown on the ESPN2 channel, where it attracts 0.2% of the cable television audience.

Beckham, who made a brief debut for the Los Angeles Galaxy in their 1-0 defeat by Chelsea on Saturday, has already proved he possesses the star quality to raise the sport's profile.

His presence in the Galaxy side has ensured many of their forthcoming games in stadia across the US and Canada are sell-outs, and the arrival of Beckham and wife Victoria in Hollywood is making a splash across the mainstream media.

So far in his career, Beckham has proved adept at balancing the demands of playing at the highest level and playing the superstar.

But preventing one from having a detrimental effect on the other will be harder in LA than at any other time.

He doesn't want to be the next Lindsay Lohan - he needs to be a success on the football field

Dana Harris
Variety magazine

First of all there is the actual football, a major concern for a 32-year-old who wants to hold down a place in the England team and play in Euro 2008.

The Galaxy were attracted to Beckham for his star appeal as much as for what he can do with his right foot, to increase their appeal to what New York Times columnist George Vecsey calls the "half of the country who hate soccer".

There is a significant audience for football in the US but it is among the Hispanic and ex-pat population, and they watch the European leagues, not the MLS.

And that, says Peter Bowes, the BBC's news correspondent in LA, is because "it is a league even ardent football fans have no respect for. They only watch football when it is the big European sides".

Victoria Beckham with Tom Cruise and his wife Katie Holmes at a Real Madrid match
The Beckhams' friendship with the Cruises will raise their profile
Beckham's ability, the Galaxy hope, can attract that audience to the MLS, and his fame and good looks should ensure the net spreads far wider.

But to take advantage of that appeal Beckham not only has to make an outstanding impression on the pitch, he has to be seen to be a celebrity, and with A-list friends such as Tom Cruise.

Beckham's image in the wider US, according to Gary Morgan, the English co-owner of the celebrity photo agency Splash, "is of a good-looking guy who plays soccer, rather than a sportsman who happens to be good-looking.

"Everyone knows he's a football player, but he has to build a brand outside football to stand any chance of being a success in the long term."

If you're going to get lost in showbiz, this is the place

Peter Bowes
BBC news correspondent, Los Angeles

Beckham claims he is in the US to play football, not to tap into Hollywood. But his wife certainly wants to build her image in the States - and "Brand Beckham" is at least as much David as it is Victoria.

According to Dana Harris, the editor of Hollywood industry magazine Variety's website, Beckham needs to work both sides of his image to make a successful, long-term career in the US. Just going to celebrity parties will not be enough.

"He probably will have the world at his feet in terms of taking advantage of building a brand," Harris says.

"But he doesn't want to be the next Lindsay Lohan - and by that I don't mean alcoholism and rehab. Her career has taken a nosedive. And he needs to be a success on the football field.

"He's certainly very good-looking, but Posh is the driving force of building Brand Beckham, and I would say it's 50-50 between him being seen as a sportsman and the husband of Posh Spice. One feeds the other, but if he doesn't succeed on the field, it will be harder."

David Beckham is mobed by paparazzi as he arrives at LA airport
Beckham's arrival has generated massive interest in the US media
The need to promote a football team in a reluctant market makes the off-field demands on Beckham higher than in the past.

But in LA they will take on a new dimension and intensity. After all, as Bowes puts it, "if you're going to get lost in showbiz, this is the place".

"He'll have no shortage of opportunity to be distracted," Harris adds, "so it's up to him. It will take careful handling, because LA is one big distraction.

"They're the couple du jour, and the way the social economy works around here, so many events are sponsored, and the advertisers and sponsors want to be associated with the celebrities.

"They need intelligent management, someone to say: 'Don't chase after stupid stuff.'

"The formula for so many celebrity couples is 1+1=3. Nicole and Tom, that sort of thing. So if one doesn't perform, that puts more pressure on them.

I don't think Beckham is trying to avoid the other distractions of LA - football is only a small part of why he's here

Gary Morgan
Co-owner, Splash photo agency
"If he's able to do both, great. But it's really hard to build a brand out of people."

And it remains an open debate where Beckham's priorities lie - particularly in the long-term.

"I don't think Beckham is trying to avoid the other distractions of LA," says Morgan.

"He's here to play football, but that's only a small part of it. About $10m of his contract is football, but it's a $250m contract. The money behind him is all about global branding.

"The big money is in advertising and sponsorship. And his appeal is as a sexy sports star - whether women want to buy a product he's advertising.

David Beckham poses with his LA Galaxy shirt
LA Galaxy hope Beckham will help them make a lot more money
"The more he parties, the more he's likely to be in the celebrity magazines. He's not going to get into them because of playing good football.

"He's purportedly taking acting lessons - he'll get movies clamouring for him to do lots of Vinnie Jones-style walk-on parts. The rumour is he's having elocution lessons to beef up his voice.

"There's a lot more pressure on him now because he's older, and there are a lot more distractions in LA than Manchester.

"It's definitely going to be a balancing act to sustain his desire to be big in Hollywood alongside his football career."

Will Brand Beckham break America?
12 Jul 07 |  Entertainment
Beckham makes brief Galaxy debut
22 Jul 07 |  Football
Pitch battles facing Beckham
16 Jul 07 |  Football
Beckham in Mission Unnecessary
19 Jul 07 |  Football
LA Galaxy pen pics
18 Jul 07 |  Football


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