Showbiz in another league with Beckham

Real Madrid to morph into sports-based entertainment behemoth

MADRID — There are four global entertainment businesses, and while Hollywood dominates movies, videogames and TV, it has no lock on soccer.

English captain David Beckham, the world’s biggest soccer star, made headlines June 18 when he joined Spain’s Real Madrid from England’s Manchester United.

He may also have made history.

Under its canny prexy, construction magnate Florentino Perez, Real Madrid is attempting to morph from a soccer club into a sports-based entertainment behemoth whose reach and revenues resemble those of a Hollywood studio.

“Real Madrid is a stronger brand than Disney,” says Perez. “It just hasn’t been exploited yet.”

If Perez succeeds, he will revolutionize the economics of soccer and may gain more of a U.S. beachhead. For this to happen, he needs Beckham.

Already, “Real Madrid is a rising financial star of European soccer, overtaking Manchester United,” says Matthew Glendinning, editor of Football Business Intl. Its 2002 revenues of $294.8 million make it the world’s richest soccer club.

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But its revs — and Beckham’s $41 million transfer fee — are small fry for a U.S. studio.

Compared to a major, Real Madrid pales on three counts: Games have short exploitation windows; most fans want to see matches live; it has few femme fans.

Enter David Beckham. His soccer skills and his fame, on and off the pitch, make him a man for all demos.

For macho fans, the defining moment in his professional life came when he kicked a ball back to his dad in a park. Today, nobody in the world can kick a ball so accurately.

For femme or gay aficionados, Beckham has a jackpot look: a lithe body, boyish grin and blond locks.

And few players are so modest. When he signed for Real Madrid, his first reaction was to apologize to its players for all the fuss his transfer caused.

Beckham also plays to soccer’s ace card: franchise-building. Warner Bros. turns out one “Harry Potter” a year; Beckham can turn out for Real Madrid every week.

Beckham will give Madrid a fast lane into Asia, where he is literally a demigod — Bangkok’s Pariwas temple has his statue in a spot reserved for minor deities. The Japanese magazine Shukan Jitsuwa has reported that women are styling their pubic hair in homage to the Mohawk hairstyle Beckham sported during the 2002 World Cup.

Beckham recently made $19 million in sponsorship fees for 10 days’ work touring the Far East.

The big question is whether Beckham can crack the U.S. He has a long way to go.

According to a Screen Digest report on “The Global Business of Sports Television,” just 8% of Americans watched the last World Cup, compared to 85% of Europeans. At the recent MTV awards, Beckham was reportedly presented as “Derek.”

But Man U, as Glendinning points out, has signed a cross-promotional agreement with the New York Yankees and is planning a U.S. tour. It’s also building a Man U-branded kids training camp, and programming from its MUTV channel appears on cable net Yankees Entertainment & Sports.

Expect Real Madrid to be pushing merchandizing and its Real Madrid channel in the U.S. very soon.