Earning $250M may be difficult


LOS ANGELES (AP) – David Beckham is big. But is he really $250 million large? Bigger at the bank than Shaq or Kobe or A-Rod?

The world’s most recognizable soccer player agreed Thursday to a five-year contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy that Anschutz Entertainment Group, the company that runs the team, touted as being worth $250 million over its five-year term.

The deal will make Beckham the highest-paid player in Major League Soccer, but reaching the headline-making figure will hinge a lot more on Beckham’s prowess as pitchman than as a player.

His Galaxy contract is a small slice of the deal – the really big money comes in expected commercial opportunities. Translation: There’s no guarantee he’ll get the $50-million-a-year average described in the announcement.

Although the 31-year-old tabloid darling isn’t a household name in the United States, marketing experts agree he’s better positioned than most star athletes to cash in off the field. Still, some doubt he’ll lure such a windfall in just five years.

“It’s overinflated,” said Ryan Schinman of Platinum Rye Entertainment, an entertainment consulting company. “I just don’t see it.”

According to Forbes Magazine, in the year ending June 2006 the only active athlete in the United States to earn more than $50 million in salary and endorsements was Tiger Woods. Next in line: Phil Mickelson ($47 million), Kobe Bryant ($31 million), Shaquille O’Neal ($30 million), Alex Rodriguez and Tom Brady (each $29 million).

Beckham was estimated to have earned $27 million from his salary at Spain’s Real Madrid club and his deals with Adidas, Gillette and others, according to Forbes.

Beckham’s Galaxy salary will come to under $100 million, an official with knowledge of the negotiations said Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity because the figure was not announced. One player agent even speculated the figure could be as low as $50 million.

Neither the Galaxy nor Denver-based Anschutz Entertainment Group replied Friday to requests for details on the deal’s structure.

David Carter, executive director of the University of Southern California Sports Business Institute, was skeptical about the $250 million estimate.

“It sounds like a great number to use in the media – one likely that is both cumulative, based on many of his relationships, as well one that includes incentives for milestones reached,” Carter said.

There’s no question the signing created a buzz. Within hours of the announcement, the Galaxy said it sold 2,000 new season tickets. Their season begins April 8.

“He’s one of the most marketable and highly identifiable sports figures in the world,” said Kathleen Hessert, president of sports marketing consultant Sports Media Challenge.

Hessert saw evidence of Beckham’s appeal all over the Internet – the agency has tracked heavy interest in the soccer star, particularly among women, in blogs and chatrooms.

That easily could make Beckham a sought-after pitchman for companies marketing to soccer moms and their daughters, Carter said.

“He can be used to sell traditional consumer goods linked to sports, such as footwear and apparel, as well as be compelling force to sell Happy Meals to families on their way (to) a MLS game,” Carter said.

Beckham also should be able to parlay his celebrity status into a showbiz career.

It doesn’t hurt that his wife, Victoria, became a celebrity in her own right as pop star Posh Spice.

Beckham is represented by arguably the most powerful Hollywood talent agency – Creative Artists Agency – and has ties to “American Idol” creator Simon Fuller, who managed the Spice Girls. AEG owner Philip Anschutz also owns Walden Media, a film production unit specializing in family-oriented fare such as the “The Chronicles of Narnia” films.

“There could be a lot of interesting crossover opportunities that might get him closer to that ($250 million) number that you might not see typically with other athletes,” said Derek Aframe, vice president with the Octagon sports marketing agency based in Norwalk, Conn. “Time will tell.”

Toss in Beckham’s established Hollywood connections, such as actor Tom Cruise, and his prospects brighten – especially given that endorsement dollars tagged to a film can reach into the tens of millions of dollars.

Still, it’s unlikely any film or television deals would fetch Beckham seven figures or supplant his primary source of income as a soccer player, Schinman suggests.

“He’s not Denzel Washington making $25 million a movie,” Schinman said. “He’s not even going to make $7 million in a film.”

Associated Press Writer Jacob Adelman and AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.

AP-ES-01-12-07 1846EST