NEW YORK – It's already time to brand it like Beckham. Adidas is launching an advertising campaign this week featuring English soccer star David Beckham and New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush swapping sports during practice in "Futbol vs. Football."
"There's very few people whose names transcend their own sports. People know the name of David Beckham, whether they follow soccer or not," said Stephen Pierpoint, vice president of brand marketing for Adidas America.
After helping Real Madrid win the Spanish League title for the first time in four seasons with the club, Beckham joins Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy next month, a major injection of star power for a league whose talent has steadily been rising but has lacked a marquee mainstay.
The 32-year-old midfielder, who has had as many hairstyles as goals, is to join up with the Galaxy next month and be a halftime guest on the telecast of the MLS All-Star game in Denver on July 19, perhaps making a cameo appearance in the match. His first game in the Galaxy's redesigned uniform figures to be a July 21 exhibition against England's Chelsea at Carson, Calif. — where Beckham already has a youth soccer academy. After that, his likely MLS debut would be Aug. 5 at Toronto.
That all will be accompanied with a lot of advertising.
"It will be a coordinated blitz, if you will," Galaxy president Alexi Lalas said. "We want to make sure that we're not duplicating efforts. So there will be obviously stuff from Adidas, the Galaxy, ESPN and a bunch of other ones."
Sponsors are counting on Beckham to reach out beyond the soccer field in a way the United States hasn't seen since Pele was with the Cosmos from 1975-77.
"It's almost the same," Pele said. "There are a lot of similarities."
Ahead of last year's World Cup, Nike erected a 70 1/2-foot high billboard near New York's Madison Square Garden and a nearly identical 40-foot high ad in San Francisco featuring Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Eddie Johnson. And yes, Adidas has a relationship with Claudio Reyna, the U.S. captain at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, but he had little buzz outside the soccer crowd.
European and Latin American stars only go so far in America's mainstream market.
To mark Beckham's arrival, Adidas retaped its "Impossible is Nothing" commercial with him to make his soccer past understandable to an American audience.
"Soccer's appeal is still behind some of the major U.S. sports in this country. We're excited about the growth opportunity that we have there," Pierpoint said. "Within the soccer community, everybody is very well aware of and really looks up to some of those MLS players, national team players, as icons. As we spread outside the soccer community, those names become lesser known. And David's name we feel really travels further, and that's an opportunity for us to draw more people into the sport of soccer, draw whole families into the sport of soccer."
Beckham was a star of England's national team at the last three World Cups and its captain from November 2000 to last July. With 96 international appearances, he is fifth on the career list behind only Peter Shilton (125), Bobby Moore (108), Bobby Charlton (106) and Billy Wright (105). And with coach Steve McClaren's decision to recall Beckham last month, the player celebrated for his curling free kicks is expected to commute back to England for European Championship qualifiers this fall and top the century mark.
But, perhaps more importantly for sponsors, he is married to Victoria Adams, the former Posh Spice, and is friends with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Galaxy games could be a big celeb ticket, much like the Lakers.
European Web sites track his hairstyles. Paparazzi tail Becks and Posh, the most celebrated of England's WAGS (wives and girlfriends).
And the corporate world wants to cash in.
"As wonderful as this is, we don't want to saturate and we don't want to duplicate when it's not necessary," Lalas said. "So there is a specific Los Angeles-based platform, there's the regional, there's the national and then there's the international. And it's a combination of the Galaxy, the league — MLS — Adidas, ESPN. All of those different entities are targeting different areas."
Until now, Adidas' biggest sales of licensed soccer merchandize in the United States have involved Mexico's national team, which it regained from Nike last October, and Real Madrid. With Beckham, selling MLS has taken a new twist.
"We've enjoyed some success of AC Milan and Real Madrid jerseys in America," Pierpoint said. "Now, for the first time, we see global demand for the LA Galaxy jersey."