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Phinsider Mailbag: What would an MLS team in Miami mean for Sun Life Stadium?

The Phinsider Mailbag opens for the first time since its return with a great question. Check out our response to what an MLS franchise in Miami might mean for Sun Life Stadium

Harry How

Our first question for the Phinsider Mailbag comes to us via Twitter. And, it's a great one.

For those of you that may not have heard, international superstar David Beckham was in Miami this weekend, checking out potential homes for an expansion Major League Soccer franchise. When Beckham signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007, his contract included a clause that, upon his retirement from the sport, he would have the right to start an MLS franchise for a discounted $25 million.

Last month, Mr. Posh Spice retired from Paris Saint-Germain. Now, he is looking to exercise his option to bring a 21st franchise into the league.

Miami previously had an MLS franchise, when the league expanded in 1998 adding the Fusion along with the Chicago Fire. The team played in Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. The Fusion would only survive for four seasons, falling victim to MLS contraction after the 2001 season (along with the other Florida team, the Tampa Bay Mutiny). The Fusion lost in the Conference Semifinals of the MLS Playoffs three times, and made the Final of the US Open Cup. They also won the 2001 Supporters Shield, given to the MLS team with the best regular season record.

While Beckham's visit to Miami does not guarantee he will start an MLS team in South Florida, there has been a lot of traction lately for MLS to return to the Sunshine State. During his visit, Beckham met with the Miami-Dade Sports Commission and Miami Mayor Manny Diaz. He was also presented the keys to Miami-Dade County by Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

Beckham and Bolivian billioneaire Marcelo Claure toured two sites, the Dolphins' Sun Life Stadium and Florida International University's football stadium. Both sites would be considered as possibilities for an MLS franchise.

"I think bringing an MLS team here to South Florida would be exciting," Beckham told Miami's CBS4 News. "I think Miami fans are very passionate about the sport and about winning and of course, it would have to be success but it's definitely exciting."

Beckham started his look for an MLS franchise home in Miami, but that does not mean other sites are out of the running. All of the southeast could be under consideration, as the closest MLS clubs to Miami are in Houston and Washington, DC.

Which brings us to our mailbag question. What could a potential MLS franchise mean for Sun Life Stadium?

I think it brings us right back to where everything was just a few weeks ago. The Dolphins had requested public funding to assist with a major renovation project to the aging Sun Life Stadium. Opened in 1987, the stadium has fallen behind many of the newer, more luxurious stadiums around the league, and still is designed to support a baseball franchise, despite the Miami Marlins moving to their own stadium.

2001 Miami Fusion

That's where the problem for Sun Life Stadium as a home for a new MLS franchise would come in. The site would not have the configuration for a soccer stadium. However, a soccer field is 70-80 yards wide, as compared to an NFL field width of 53-1/2 yards. That would make the seats where they are currently located, something that would change with the proposed renovation plan that failed, actually more conducive to an MLS team. They could still move the seats closer some, or have a movable lower bowl.

Sun Life Stadium currently holds 75,000 people, which would make it nearly double the size of the of the largest MLS stadium (CenturyLink FIeld in Seattle is artificially reduced for soccer from a 67,000 seat NFL capacity to a 38,500 seat capacity). The stadium could be artificially reduced in size, with the upper bowl completely or partially eliminated from ticket sales.

However, FIU's stadium is already set at 20,000, which would fit right in with the soccer landscape around the US. It could make more sense for an MLS team to use that site.

The addition of an MLS team in Sun Life Stadium could add pressure on the political side to approve the funding for the renovations, but, part of the bill that the State House of Representatives failed to hear actually included money for an Orlando stadium to try to bring MLS to Central Florida. The ultimate pressure will come from the NFL. As long as South Florida continues to be shunned for Super Bowls, the league will continue to remind the Florida legislature that all it takes is some public money to improve the stadium before the championship game will return.

Ultimately, an MLS franchise in Miami, using Sun Life Stadium, or even the possibility of it being there, will be a benefit toward the quest for a stadium renovation. However, it, alone, probably will not be the tipping point.

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