King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Is David Beckham overrated and overpaid? Only if you think athletes shouldn't make what they're worth.

By Salon Staff
Published July 1, 2003 7:00PM (EDT)

Reader Mario Escamilla makes an interesting point and poses an interesting question about Manchester United soccer star David Beckham, who has signed with Real Madrid. The Spanish team paid United a $41 million transfer fee, and will reportedly pay Beckham about $7 million plus bonuses over four years.

"His hype is way bigger than his actual ability, and now that he's on a team full of bona fide superstars, his shortcomings are going to become more apparent," Escamilla writes. "However, he'll probably make up for that with sales of his jersey. Are there any American sports stars that you think compare to Becks? Someone who is not as good as advertised?"

If by "not as good as advertised" Escamilla means "not worth their huge contract," the list is long and storied. We can just lean back in our chairs and savor the words "Shawn Kemp" and we'll have done all the thinking we need to do on the issue. But if you all want to keep going we can cast our minds to Detroit. Mmmmm ... Bobby Higginson. Mmmmm ... $11.85 million this year. And so on throughout the four major American sports.

But I think Escamilla answers his own question: "He'll probably make up for that with sales of his jersey."

I don't know enough about soccer to say whether Beckham, who will be "introduced" by Real Madrid at a photo op Wednesday assuming he passes a physical Tuesday, is overrated as a player, as has been charged here and there, including in Salon. But independent of his ability, his signing reminds me most of Alex Rodriguez's signing with the Texas Rangers two and a half years ago.

That was a blockbuster deal, $25 million a year for 10 years, all out of whack with the pay scale of the rest of baseball. But as my former stablemate Allen Barra pointed out at the time, Rangers owner Tom Hicks had already made that money by signing a new cable deal that was so rich precisely because he was about to sign Rodriguez. A-Rod had paid for himself before he sold a single ticket, jersey or hot dog.

As I write this, Beckham and his wife, Victoria ("Posh Spice"), are touring the Far East, where the people are lining the streets and, like, throwing babies at him or something. Think Real Madrid will sell a few Beckham jerseys there? I wouldn't be surprised if the team had made back that $41 million by this time next month.

As Spanish soccer expert Phil Ball told Britain's Channel 4 News, Real Madrid "paid more [than the $41 million transfer fee] for Ronaldo and they've already recouped that in shirt sales." The Brazilian star signed in September.

I think soccer players need a union. Seven million bucks a year? Isn't soccer the biggest sport in the world? Isn't Beckham one of its most popular and talented stars? According to the Associated Press, Mike Cameron, Rusty Greer, Matt Mantei, Javy Lopez, Charles Johnson, Pedro Astacio and Armando Benitez are among the baseball capitalists making roughly that much this year. One or two nice players in that bunch, but nobody's, you know, married to a Spice Girl or anything. Nobody's jersey is about to be on the backs of a couple million kids in Asia.

There is power in a union. Real Madrid got a bargain.

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