The Beckham effect

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:36 AM ET

If this works, picture Calgary's Owen Hargreaves and Manchester United here.

"We've talked about it," admits Edmonton Eskimos CEO Rick LeLacheur. "We've talked about bringing a lot of those European clubs over."

For a great many years, the Edmonton Eskimos considered Commonwealth Stadium their own personal playpen. Now the football club will be the key to a soccer game being so successful here it may result in the biggest, er, Eskimo crowd of the season.

I tell you today what I told the organizer of the David Beckham visit here which was made official yesterday with a press conference and a May 13 date for the Los Angeles Galaxy-Vancouver Whitecaps game.

When my phone rang at the Super Bowl with an off-the-record inquiry of how I believed such an event would work here if they decided to do it, I said the Eskimos would be the key. If the Eskimos provided a base crowd close to the number of their season ticket count (about 25,000) before tickets go on sale to the public, it'll be ballistic.

It'll be everything Beckham's visit to Vancouver last November was when the same game drew 48,172 in B.C. Place.

The key is the next two weeks.

Eskimos' season-ticket holders, the way this event is set up, will have front-of-the-line privileges for tickets between now and the end of the month. Each season-ticket holder will be allowed to purchase as many as eight tickets each, per seat.

"There will be some who won't pick up their option for any tickets and others who buy all eight," predicts LeLacheur.

"But I believe we can match our season ticket number with the combinations."

If that happens, then it will be obvious to all that this will indeed be a fully-accredited happening here.

The contract with the Galaxy, as was the case for the Vancouver game, is that Beckham must be healthy or the game will be rescheduled like last year in Vancouver when Beckham was injured.

The Beckham effect was certainly seen in Vancouver last year and that's why this game is here this year.

"David Beckham is an individual who transcends sport. He was one of the most recognizable sports figures in the world, next to maybe only Tiger Woods," said Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi.

"He may be in the twilight of his career but nobody can bend it like Beckham can. He's a good looking guy. He has Posh Spice as a wife. And they are one of the most recognizable couples in the world."

Forget Landon Donovan and Carlos Ruiz and the other stars. This will be about Beckham and feasting your eyes on the guy the Galaxy paid $250 million for five years.

"It's a spectacle. It's a moment in time. You are going to want to say you were there," said Alexi Lalas, the former U.S. World Cup star who runs the Galaxy.

"Obviously because of that, contractually, we have to assure that Beckham will be on the field and healthy."

In Vancouver, where the contract stipulated 45 minutes as well, Beckham played 75.

"Right now we're in training camp and Beckham is 100% fit," said Lalas.

The contract also includes Beckham and both teams being here two days before the game.

There is no provision, however, to guarantee that his wife will make the trip.

"In Vancouver we sold 10,000 tickets the day he arrived," said Lenarduzzi of the mania which goes with Beckham.

And the Galaxy, who need hits like this to help cover Beckham's massive million dollar-a-week contract, were thrilled when the Whitecaps came calling for a do-over of last year's event.

"Our experience in Vancouver was wonderful, on the field and off ," said Lalas.

"I've heard nothing but wonderful things of Edmonton and the stadium. We definitely like the idea it'll be on grass.

"This will be an in-season game for us and it is highly beneficial to play on grass."

Only lower bowl tickets will be available with tickets on sale to the general public March 8. Prices range from $25 to $83 in the lower bowl, but the average will be about $38, slightly less than in Vancouver.

With a success, Lenarduzzi says the big picture plan to bring other similar sizzle events could be brought here.

"Ideally this will not be a one-off event," he said. "It's a wonderful venue. And it's grass."

The effect of that lonely patch of Canadian grass is never to be underestimated.


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