Beckham will start playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy this summer as part of a reported $250 million five-year deal that includes endorsements and various other forms of ancillary revenue streams. That Beckham’s deal is almost certainly not worth $250 millionwhich would put him with Oprah and Howard Stern in the celebrity-cash World Cup (a hardly embarrassing $50 million for five years being closer to the mark, with various incentives, details of which are unclear, that could drive that number into the nine-figure range)is only fitting for a man whose entire career has existed in the space between hype and reality.
In the Wall Street version of risk arbitrage, the real money is in finding gaps in valuations between related assets. In football betting, the ultimate win is cornering the spread. Beckham’s move is the ultimate in celebrity arbitrage. Largely spent as a soccer-playing force in Europethis past fall, he stood down as captain and then was dropped as a member of the English national teamhe was at risk of harming the by-now far more valuable Beckham brand, which was worth around $171 million in 2006. Coming to America allows Beckham to jettison all the negative associations with his fading soccer potency, because, brilliantly, he’s found the one place in the world that couldn’t care less about any of that.
As the persistence of Lance Armstrong demonstrates, Americans are happy to embrace sports stars whose sports they never watch. And Beckham, like the increasingly ubiquitous Armstrong, is perfectly happy to be a star. He will maintain a politician’s schedule: opening a soccer camp at 8, cutting the ribbon for a charity drive at 10, lunching outdoors at the Ivy at noon, hitting practice in the afternoon before being seen, always flawlessly turned out with hair that will elicit comments, patiently walking the red carpet so that everyone gets plenty of photos.
He will be happy to see us and we will be happy to see him, for we need each other. Our celebrity culture is burnt. Too many ’hos showing their junk and sending e-mails filled with misspellings. With the exception of one errant set of text messages (more about that later), Beckham has been the model of restraint, politesse, decency. Being a nice guy is a key part of the brand, and Hollywood is short on nice guys at the moment. He goes out all the time, but is never seen getting drunk in public. He is insanely extravagant and also, weirdly, and in a way that will translate particularly well in the U.S., classy.
Born to a cabinet installer and a hairdresser in Leytonstone, East Londonvery roughly the U.K. equivalent of South BostonBeckham was always hip-hop avant la letter: He was an early fan of the Bentley Arnage and Jacob the Jeweler earrings. He was a working-class hero who broke away from traditional notions of working-class values. He added his own spin, not available to the average 18-year-old in, say, Liverpool: a touch of gay. It was all there, unexplained and, to his credit, never apologized for, in the artful and ever-changing hairdos, including a particularly unfortunate collision with cornrows; the clear preference for moisturizer; the insufficiently butch high-register lisp; the pink nail polish; and the kind of lithe, hairless physique that no American athlete worth his andro would dare go shirtless with. David Beckham’s existence gave the word metrosexual the air it needed to breathe. No other public figure ever pulled it off. No other major figure in the entertainment industry, male anyway, ever appeared in a sarong. At the end of their sporting relationship, Manchester United’s Mike Ditka–like coach, Alex Ferguson, would dis him as being, simply, “flash.”