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Galaxy still a team to watch without David Beckham

Two-time defending champions are in fifth place and attendance is down somewhat, but that is blamed more on Landon Donovan's late arrival and Sunday home games than the absence of the English star.

May 14, 2013|By Jim Peltz
  • Los Angeles Galaxy's David Beckham acknowledges the fans after a game against the Vancouver Whitecaps last season.
Los Angeles Galaxy's David Beckham acknowledges the fans after a… (Jae C. Hong / Associated…)

David Beckham's six years with the Galaxy bolstered the fortunes of both the Galaxy and Major League Soccer. But now that the superstar is gone, has it made any difference?

It's a mixed bag, but it's still early in the season.

Through its first five home games at the 27,000-seat Home Depot Center, the Galaxy's average attendance is down 6% from a year earlier to 21,011.

Ticket broker StubHub, which takes over the stadium's naming rights June 1 as part of a marketing partnership with the Galaxy, likewise is "seeing a bit of lag" in the resale market for Galaxy tickets, according to StubHub spokeswoman Alison Salcedo.

But the declines probably reflect other factors besides Beckham's departure, including the late arrival this season of another Galaxy star, Landon Donovan.

At the same time, the Galaxy's season-ticket sales are climbing. "We're pacing to hit 9,250 by the end of this year" from 7,500 at the end of 2012, said Galaxy President Chris Klein, a former Galaxy player.

And the Galaxy's television ratings are up, with Galaxy games being shown for the first season on Time Warner Cable's English and Spanish regional sports outlets.

It's all part of the Galaxy's adjustment to living without Beckham, who left after helping the Galaxy win its second consecutive MLS championship last year.

The English midfielder, whose celebrity raised the profile of both the Galaxy and MLS within the sports landscape, now plays for Paris St.-Germain.

"We're never going to replace David Beckham," said Bruce Arena, the Galaxy general manager and coach. "David Beckham is a global personality, and he was tremendous for our franchise, tremendous for the league."

Despite Beckham's absence, the Galaxy is "off to a good start," Arena said. The Galaxy is 4-3-2 as it faces the Union in Philadelphia on Wednesday night, the middle game of a three-game trip.

The Galaxy, which has lost two games in a row, is fifth in the Western Conference, 10 points behind first-place FC Dallas.

Galaxy games on Time Warner Cable's SportsNet and Deportes channels have averaged about 40,000 viewers combined so far this year, the cable company said. That's up from roughly 30,000 on average when Fox carried the Galaxy.

"We're seeing a much larger audience than we assumed out of the gate," said Mark Shuken, senior vice president and general manager of TWC Sports Regional Networks.

When the Galaxy played FC Dallas in Dallas in mid-April, FC Dallas Stadium nearly was sold out with 20,465 spectators, showing the Galaxy still is a draw without Beckham.

Indeed, Klein also discounted Beckham's departure as a factor in the early drop in the Galaxy's average home attendance.

A more likely contributor is that three of the Galaxy's five home games so far have been on Sunday afternoon or evening when fans have work or school the next day, Klein said.

Arena agreed. "Why we're playing all these Sunday games is beyond my understanding," he said. "We need to be playing Saturday nights."

Donovan — the team's all-time leading scorer — wasn't playing at all when the season began, having taken an extended leave because of mental and physical exhaustion.

Donovan finally returned in mid-April, but then the Galaxy's other star forward, Robbie Keane, hurt his left ankle and has missed the last three games.

Donovan's first home start this year was April 20 against Sporting Kansas City, and attendance at Home Depot Center surged to 25,908 from 19,936 at the prior MLS home game.

But then attendance at the Galaxy's next home game May 5, against the Houston Dynamo, dropped back to 20,071. It was a Sunday night game.

james.peltz@latimes.com

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