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Beckham's new MLS franchise glitz, glamour and growth potential

 USA Today
by Paul Tenorio
MIAMI -- Before the confetti fell on David Beckham and his partners and before the throng of Miami fans cheered an announcement that was four years in the making, evidence of the glitz of a Major

League Soccer franchise in South Florida rolled on projection screens on the stage.

Celebrity endorsers from across every different entertainment field spoke into the camera to welcome MLS to Miami -- from actress Jennifer Lopez and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to rapper Jay Z, Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt and Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar.

If there was any doubt Miami was bringing a certain cachet to Major League Soccer, it ended when that reel was played for the audience of several hundred fans who had gathered downtown to welcome MLS back to the region.

That prestige is part, but not all, of what makes Miami such a perfect fit for MLS. And it's part of the reason why, for four years, the league and Beckham were so intent on making it work here, even when it seemed the team would never materialize.

The growth of MLS has come in part from the magnetism of major markets. There is a reason MLS has two teams in both Los Angeles and New York. To sell a player on tapping into the ever-profitable American audience, you need to sell the country's biggest cities: the Hollywood life on the West Coast and the "if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere" lore of the Big Apple.

Beckham's move to the LA Galaxy was the first major sign of how the right market can lure the biggest stars to MLS in the "modern" era. Those marquee markets have since brought the likes of Thierry Henry, David Villa and Giovani Dos Santos. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is rumored to be the next big name to head to L.A.

Now Beckham will launch a team in a city capable of bringing more big names to the league.

Beckham reminisced Monday about the move he made from Real Madrid to MLS. It was a massive gamble, but he was betting on a young league that had plenty of growth potential -- growth from which he could benefit, too. He recalled the challenge of coming to MLS and then held out his hands and cracked that famous smile.

"And, of course, L.A. wasn't the worst city to live [in]," he said.

Miami isn't so bad, either.

There is something about Miami that pulls in stars at almost the same rate they flock to Tinseltown. It's the beaches, maybe, or the style and glam of the city. There is an air of luxury and class and exclusivity. The Miami sunshine has seduced footballers such as Cristiano Ronaldo -- arguably the game's biggest star. It's partly why so many celebrities were ready to press record on those welcome videos.

"Most players love a city like Miami," said Marcelo Claure, CEO of Sprint and a member of the Miami expansion ownership group. "Miami is a hot place, a lot of people want to be here and a lot of people want to play for David Beckham's team."

It is among the reasons MLS remained so intent on launching a franchise in the market. But the leaders involved say it's not the only one.

As MLS has grown, so too has its outlook on what can grow the league. Yes, Beckham will open doors to top players. So, too, will South Beach. But the success of markets such as Atlanta have changed the perspective on the ingredients that can yield packed stadiums and on-field results.

It's not just about the megastar signing anymore. Miami also represents what MLS commissioner Don Garber called a "gateway" to a global market in which MLS is becoming a bigger player. It's as likely to attract the Miguel Almirons of the world as it is the Beckhams.

"This is such a rich city, with the culture and support for the game," Garber told ESPN. "International games get massive attendance, the World Cup [TV] ratings [are high], the MLS ratings, even without a team, are very high.

"It's [also] a gateway city for our entire country, it's a gateway to South America. So much of our success has been driven by players who have come from Argentina and Brazil and Paraguay and Venezuela and Uruguay, and our media coverage and fan support is really strong in South America.

So, if you could make it [work] here, it will open us up to such an important part of the footballing influence in our world."
David Beckham takes time for ESPN FC's Alexis Nunes to announce his plans for a MLS franchise in Miami.
The culture of Miami was on display as much as anything else Monday. While the celebrity videos elicited some cheers, the Mas brothers -- Jorge and Jose Mas -- might have received the grandest ovation, arguably bigger even than Beckham's.

The Miami businessmen have strong local ties that go back generations. Their involvement in the ownership group not only pushed the franchise over the line in the eyes of MLS, but also in the eyes of fans who are waiting to see just what this team is going to look like. The fans want the megastars, sure, but they also want a team that will represent Miami.

"The city has changed already in the 10 or 15 years since the [Miami] Fusion folded, and it's even more diverse, even more representative of what's happening in the country," said Andrew Bennett, 41, a Miami native and member of the Southern Legion, a Miami MLS supporters' group that has stayed alive while a team has teetered on the brink of existence for several years.

The Mas brothers "bring a level of credibility [to the franchise] it wouldn't have otherwise," said Bennett, whose neck was wrapped in a scarf stating "MLS to Miami."

The team is two years away from stepping on the field, but already its identity is starting to become clear.

Beckham mentioned Monday that he has already fielded calls from "top players" letting him know they're in. But his most verbose answers about the future of the club were about building an academy in Miami that would produce homegrown players.

It's a market that has the potential to do it all: to buy big, to develop its stars, to attract the South American markets and to capture a massive U.S. audience, too. It also has a unique ability to elevate the league from the moment it signs its first player.

And after years of waiting, the ownership group was ready to promises it won't sit on its hands and let the market for which it fought so hard go to waste.

"We have a lot of ambition to have a great, winning team," Claure said. "None of us do this to be second. Look at the roster of owners we have; we are going to do whatever it takes to build academies [and] recruit great players. This is going to be a great team, of that I can assure you."

How Overseas Film Sales Are Saving Hollywood!

Photographer: Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection
By Anousha SakouiThe duds just keep coming this summer in North America, from “The Mummy” to “Alien: Covenant” to “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” The season has been what critics politely call lackluster for Hollywood studios -- but don’t expect them to stop churning out more bombs.

That’s because as badly as so many franchise films and reboots have done in the world’s biggest cinema market, they’ve racked up solid ticket sales elsewhere. Theater-goers in America thought Paramount Pictures’ fifth “Transformers” was pretty much a yawner, but in China they liked it. And No. 6 is already in the works.

“Look at the casualties just this summer,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a Los Angeles-based analyst for ComScore Inc. “If they only had North America, it would be a monumental disaster for the studios.”

For now at least, the rest of the world -- China in particular -- is supporting Hollywood’s love affair with series, sequels and rehashes like “The Mummy,” Universal Pictures’ new take on a story that’s been told dozens of times. The risk is that sequel fatigue will set in overseas too. Chinese moviegoers are becoming more choosy, and the fastest-growing film market is slowing down. That’s a challenge for studios such as Walt Disney Co. and Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros., which plan and schedule movies years in advance.

Jonathan Papish, an analyst for China Film Insider, described as a “disaster” the $250 million that “Transformers: The Last Knight” is projected to record in the world’s most-populous country. The reason: the previous version from Viacom Inc.’s film division pulled in 17 percent more, “a worrisome sign for both Paramount and other Hollywood studios who have become far too complacent thinking that Chinese audiences will swallow whatever garbage they shove down their throats.”
This “Transformers” opening in China, at least, was about 30 percent bigger than the opening for the previous one, according to Box Office Mojo.

Not every sequel or franchise entry has fallen flat in North America, of course. “Wonder Woman,” Warner Bros.’ fourth episode in the DC Extended Universe series, has taken in $346 million domestically and is one of the year’s top films. Disney’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” topped the box office for two weeks and has taken in $383 million domestically.

And there are some big-hitters coming. Sony Corp.’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is expected to take in $301 million in North America after its release this weekend, according to BoxOfficePro.com. 

“War for Planet of the Apes,” out July 14 from 21st Century Fox Inc., could grab $165 million.

But the second-quarter domestic box office ended down 3.6 percent from a year ago at $2.7 billion, Barton Crockett, an analyst at FBR & Co., said in a note. He blamed disappointing sequels; even with a better-than-expected “Wonder Woman,” he predicts a 15 percent decline for the third quarter.

Chinese box-office sales fell in June, as local movies as well as Hollywood imports failed to meet expectations. This month, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC pushed back its forecast for China’s movie market to overtake the U.S. to 2021 from 2017.

This weekend, Universal’s “Despicable Me 3” will test the Chinese market, after opening in first place in 44 out of 46 countries, according to data from the film division of Comcast Corp. A new installment in another Universal series, “The Fate of the Furious,” enjoyed strong demand in China, taking in $393 million there earlier this year.

Even with big budget films flopping at home, movies can earn money for years to come from digital downloads and sales to Netflix Inc. and other streaming sites and cable-television channels. The latest -- and last -- “Pirates of the Caribbean” may have missed expectations when it came out May 26, but it could end up generating a net profit of $219 million, according to an estimate from Wade Holden, analyst with S&P Global Market Intelligence.

That hasn’t stopped some analysts from complaining that studios have focused too much on making big-budget features.

“There is an over reliance on sequels,” said Richard Greenfield, a media and technology analyst at BTIG LLC. The major studios “are so worried about investing in an unknown property that they are all just relying on sequels and hoping that sequels will save them.”

While Disney has had tremendous success, Greenfield said it’s not bullet-proof. “The danger is that investors are essentially assuming that a movie like ‘Star Wars’ will be successful forever.”

As much as any studio, Disney has tied its future to sequels and remakes. The company’s 2017 schedule includes eight films, of which six fit that profile, according to Box Office Mojo.

Disney said its strategy sets it apart from the competition -- in 2016 its film business had its most profitable year ever. Other studios trying to ape it have had less success. Sony, for example, tried and failed to refresh its 1984 hit “Ghostbusters” last year in the hope that it could spawn a new series.

In any event, many future slates are laden with new installments of existing worlds of characters. 21st Century Fox and Sony, which license Marvel characters, are planning more “X-Men” and “Spider-Man” chapters.

Disney has laid out several years worth of Marvel superhero offerings and at least a six-picture series of “Star Wars” movies. Meanwhile, the company is revisiting “Mary Poppins” and “Mulan.”

“Studios are rushing these sequels,” said Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co. “If you want to get the domestic audience back, you’ve got to do something a little outside the box.”

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Music legend Elton John confirms he will quit touring after global farewell

At a special event in New York, Elton John performed two songs before announcing he intends to retire from touring. Picture: AFP/Timothy A. Clary
 Picture: AFP/Timothy A. ClarySource:AFP


The 70-year-old will retire from the road after one last world tour.

AFTER much speculation, music legend Elton John announced overnight a final tour, saying he intends to stop travelling to spend more time with his family.

The 70-year-old British entertainer, revealing his plans at a gala New York event, said he planned to “go out with a bang” with a global tour that will open in September and last through 2021.

At a special event in New York, Elton John performed two songs before announcing he intends to retire from touring.

“It will be the last time that I’m touring and travelling the world, because my priorities have changed,” John told several hundred journalists and guests after a mini-concert and virtual reality presentation about his career.

Saying he has had an “amazing life and amazing career,” he added: “My priorities now are my children and my husband and my family.”

John, who in the 1980s became one of the first openly gay major celebrities, has two children with his husband, Canadian filmmaker and former advertising executive David Furnish.

John said he had no health concerns and would stay active, hoping to record more albums and write further musicals.

“I will be creative, hopefully, until the day I die,” he said.

John, who closes his latest extravagant Las Vegas residency in May, said he was also open to concerts after the tour but that they would likely only be in his native Britain.

John was left in intensive care earlier in 2017 after being struck down with a “potentially deadly” bacterial infection while touring South America, but despite the major health scare, the star was in Australia in September 2017 for his Once in a Lifetime national tour taking in stadiums, regional cities and wineries.

In March last year, John revealed he would make a decision about his touring future.

News Corp Australia Network
The music icon admitted at the time that he was keen to spend more time with his children with long-term partner David Furnish, Zachary and Elijah.

The music legend wants to spend more time with his sons, Elijah Furnish-John and Zachary Furnish-John. Picture: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for EJAF
 Picture: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for EJAFSource:Getty Images

The chart-topping star said: “There will be a decision made in the next six months, probably. I will want to stop touring — not playing, but touring. Seventy isn’t 60, it’s not 50. I want to spend time with my boys.”

Michael Phelps: 'I am extremely thankful that I did not take my life'

(CNN)Far from the familiar waters of an Olympic pool, swimmer Michael Phelps shared the story of his personal encounter with depression at a mental health conference in Chicago this week.

"You do contemplate suicide," the winner of 28 Olympic medals told a hushed audience at the fourth annual conference of the Kennedy Forum, a behavioral health advocacy group.

Interviewed at the conference by political strategist David Axelrod (who is a senior political commentator for CNN), Phelps' 20-minute discussion highlighted his battle against anxiety, depression. and suicidal thoughts -- and some questions about his athletic prowess.

The 'easy' part

Asked what it takes to become a champion, Phelps, 32, immediately replied, "I think that part is pretty easy -- it's hard work, dedication, not giving up."

Pressed for more details, the Baltimore native described the moment his coach told his parents he could become an Olympian and he recalled the taste of defeat when losing a race by "less than half a second" at his first Olympics in Sydney in 2000, which meant returning home without a medal.

"I wanted to come home with hardware," said Phelps, acknowledging this feeling helped him break his first world record at age 15 and later win his first gold medal at the Athens Olympic Games in 2004.

"I was always hungry, hungry, and I wanted more," said Phelps. "I wanted to push myself really to see what my max was."

Intensity has a price.

"Really, after every Olympics I think I fell into a major state of depression," said Phelps when asked to pinpoint when his trouble began. He noticed a pattern of emotion "that just wasn't right" at "a certain time during every year," around the beginning of October or November, he said. "I would say '04 was probably the first depression spell I went through."

That was the same year that Phelps was charged with driving under the influence, Axelrod reminded the spellbound audience.

And there was a photo taken in fall 2008 -- just weeks after he'd won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics -- that showed Phelps smoking from a bong. He later apologized and called his behavior "regrettable."

Drugs were a way of running from "whatever it was I wanted to run from," he said. "It would be just me self-medicating myself, basically daily, to try to fix whatever it was that I was trying to run from."

Phelps punctuated his wins at the Olympic games in 2004, 2008 and 2012 with self-described "explosions."

If you suspect someone may be at risk:

1. Do not leave the person alone.
2. Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
3. Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
4. Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. For more tips and warning signs, click here.

The "hardest fall" was after the 2012 Olympics, said Phelps. "I didn't want to be in the sport anymore ... I didn't want to be alive anymore."

What that "all-time low" looked like was Phelps sitting alone for "three to five days" in his bedroom, not eating, barely sleeping and "just not wanting to be alive," he said.

Finally, Phelps knew he needed help.

'I wasn't ready'

"I remember going to treatment my very first day, I was shaking, shaking because I was nervous about the change that was coming up," Phelps told Axelrod. "I needed to figure out what was going on."

His first morning in treatment, a nurse woke him at 6 a.m. and said, "Look at the wall and tell me what you feel."

On the wall hung eight basic emotions, he recalled.

"How do you think I feel right now, I'm pretty ticked off, I'm not happy, I'm not a morning person," he angrily told the nurse, laughing now at the memory.

Once he began to talk about his feelings, "life became easy." Phelps told Axelrod, "I said to myself so many times, 'Why didn't I do this 10 years ago?' But, I wasn't ready."

"I was very good at compartmentalizing things and stuffing things away that I didn't want to talk about, I didn't want to deal with, I didn't want to bring up -- I just never ever wanted to see those things," said Phelps.

He has implemented stress management into programs offered by the Michael Phelps Foundation, and works with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Today he understands that "it's OK to not be OK" and that mental illness "has a stigma around it and that's something we still deal with every day," said Phelps. "I think people actually finally understand it is real. People are talking about it and I think this is the only way that it can change."

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"That's the reason why suicide rates are going up -- people are afraid to talk and open up," said Phelps.

Today, by sharing his experience he has the chance to reach people and save lives -- "and that's way more powerful," he said.

"Those moments and those feelings and those emotions for me are light years better than winning the Olympic gold medal," said Phelps.

"I am extremely thankful that I did not take my life."