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MIAMI – David Beckham hopped onto the stage, his back to sparkling Biscayne Bay, and a pack of photographers jostled for position as soccer fans cheered and chanted.
"Thank you for the warm welcome," Beckham said on a sunny, 80-degree February morning. In this case, it was soccer weather.
The sport moved a step closer to returning to South Florida on Wednesday, when Beckham confirmed he has exercised his option to purchase a Major League Soccer expansion franchise in Miami. The deal will be finalized when the former English national team captain can secure a financing plan and location for a new stadium.
Beckham attended a news conference with MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez to discuss their progress.
"This is an exciting time, and something we're really looking forward to bringing to Miami," Beckham told a crowd of more than 300 people on a downtown museum plaza. The event was frequently interrupted by cheers for Beckham, who's popular around the world and especially in celebrity-smitten Miami.
Beckham has scouted possible stadium sites and is seeking investors to assist with startup costs such as construction and player acquisitions. Among those who might become involved is Beckham's friend LeBron James, who has had recent conversations with the retired soccer star about bringing a team to Miami.
"We don't want public funding," Beckham said to applause. "We will fund the stadium ourselves. We have worked very hard to get to this stage where we can fund the stadium ourselves. We want to create a football club that is the people's football club."
Beckham, looking the part of a businessman in a suit and tie, said city officials have promised the stadium will be downtown, which is his preference.
Gimenez — who at one point referred to Beckham as "Beckman" — said there's political support for a plan.
"We started our negotiations last week," Gimenez said. "We have to get rolling. There's a time crunch. We are willing partners. We are very grateful that Mr. Beckham and MLS have chosen Miami as the site for their next franchise. We're going to do all in our power to make sure we get the stadium built in the right place as quickly as possible."
Beckham said he also wants to start a children's soccer academy in Miami.
The former Manchester United, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Los Angeles Galaxy and Paris Saint-Germain star has the right to an expansion team at a discount fee of $25 million. MLS's Miami Fusion played in Fort Lauderdale from 1998-01 before folding because of poor attendance.
"Miami is a vibrant city with a lot of passion," Beckham said. "I know this city is ready for football — soccer — this time around. I know this is going to be successful."
The crowd at the news conference included a throng of chanting, singing fans.
"People here love this sport," Garber said. "We together have no doubt it will be a very successful MLS team."
Shareholders will include Beckham's business partner Simon Fuller, the "American Idol" creator who is the driving force in franchise negotiations, and Marcelo Claure, president and CEO of Brightstar Corp.
Beckham declined to say what players he would like to bring to the team.
"We have a list," he said. "We want to bring some of the best players in football to Miami to play on this team. I've seen what happens to teams when you bring great players in. I'm talking about the Heat."
That brought cheers from the crowd. James and the Heat have won the past two NBA titles.
Beckham laughingly ruled out hiring his former coach, Sir Alex Ferguson, to coach the team, but said he has ideas regarding that search as well.
"I kind of know what makes a great coach and what doesn't," he said. "We'll have a good coach here."