By David Adams
MIAMI (Reuters) - Former England soccer captain David Beckham and Major League Soccer will announce on Wednesday that he is exercising his option to become the owner of a team in Miami, sources close to the negotiations said.
A final deal to grant the franchise to Beckham could be several months away though, with a stadium location and financing still required to win approval from the MLS board for his team to become the 22nd club of the top U.S. professional soccer league.
"Beckham's announcement will mark the culmination of the start phase," said Irwin Raij, a sports attorney at Foley & Lardner who has worked on numerous stadium deals, but is not involved in Beckham's plans. "He's committed and now the real negotiations can begin."
The international soccer star's investment group and MLS Commissioner Don Garber were expected to make the announcement on Wednesday morning at Miami's gleaming new bayfront art museum.
The former Manchester United and Real Madrid star, who also played for the Los Angeles Galaxy In MLS, retired as a player last May and holds $25 million option in his MLS contract to start a new franchise.
Beckham is already in discussions with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the county commission to possibly lease county-owned land for a 25,000-seat stadium.
Beckham's investment group has narrowed its stadium search to five possible sites in and around downtown Miami, officials say, including a 25-acre waterfront lot next to the port of Miami's cruise ship terminals, potentially putting the new team at the forefront of Miami's tourism landscape.
The port site is within walking distance of the National Basketball Association's Miami Heat arena and within easy reach of the Miami Beach hotel district.
MLS has stressed the importance of having a final stadium deal, along with a business plan, before it will approve a new team.
"We can't go to Miami without the right stadium solution," Garber, the MLS Commissioner, said in December.
"David understands that, the city understands that, that is an indisputable fact," he said.
Beckham's group is not looking for public financing, but may need to negotiate site plans with the county, such as leasing the port location, to help build a privately financed stadium.
In December, Miami-Dade county commissioners unanimously approved efforts by the mayor's office to help Beckham find a suitable stadium location.
The decision gave county officials authority to identify stadium sites and negotiate construction contracts with developers.
Beckham has toured Miami twice in recent months with British businessman and American Idol creator Simon Fuller, as well as Bolivian-born billionaire Marcelo Claure, founder of Miami-based Brightstar Corp, the world's largest wireless distributor and the provider of global services to Apple.
Beckham registered as a Florida company under the name Miami Beckham United LLC and has hired HR&A Advisors, a New York-based development consulting firm, to examine possible stadium locations in Miami.
(Editing by Grant McCool)