Cashing in on Beckham

Times Staff Writer

When a disappointed David Beckham stalked out of the stadium in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, after England's loss to Portugal during last summer's soccer World Cup, he was wearing a scowl.

Whether he was also wearing his World Cup credential, normally found draped around the necks of players, coaches, referees, journalists and tournament officials, is up for debate.

Within days of Beckham's signing a projected $250-million contract to play for Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy, that credential -- or one purporting to be the real thing -- showed up on EBay. It was offered on the online auction site by a German dealer. The theory is that Beckham, disgusted by England's 3-1 loss on penalty kicks, had flung it aside, or he simply left it behind or gave it to someone as a souvenir.

Whatever the provenance, the credential was sold to a German buyer for $222.53.

Little more than a month has passed since Beckham's Galaxy deal, and Beckham-mania has flourished on EBay. The number of Beckham collectibles being offered surpassed 1,000 in the week of his signing, and although the number dropped to 760 on Monday, interest remained high.

Items for sale include Beckham books, magazines, photographs and trading cards, Beckham jerseys, boots, sunglasses and cologne, Beckham action figures, posters, DVDs and license plates. There has also been a fair amount of skulduggery going on.

For instance, the Galaxy made it clear that the team would be changing its logo and colors, as well as its jersey sponsor, to mark the arrival of Beckham, yet buyers are happily paying significant prices for what are essentially fake items. "Be the first to own the new Los Angeles Galaxy David Beckham No. 23 shirt!!" trumpeted the description on one jersey put up for auction by a dealer in England. "This is the authentic Adidas home strip for 2006 and 2007. Home gold and green."

Well, no, not really. At some point this year the Galaxy gold and green will be ditched, reportedly in favor of a deep space blue, with a more galactic logo. And even though Beckham is expected to wear No. 23 because he is a fan of Michael Jordan, he has not officially been assigned that number. Nevertheless, that Galaxy jersey sold for $141.79 to a fan in England.

A similar Galaxy jersey, also with Beckham's name and number on the back, was sold last week by another English dealer for $143.98. His description was even more truth-stretching. "To highlight his celebrity status, Beckham's shirt No. 23 sold out in record time on the day of his transfer, and the club were reported to have received around 600,000 [pounds] in shirt sales alone," it stated.

Not true. The Galaxy has not put a single Beckham jersey on sale and will not until the new line comes out. "I'd prefer we not mislead people. There will be a time to buy a Beckham jersey, it's just not now," said Tim Leiweke, chief executive of AEG, which operates the Galaxy.

"Will we see a lot of Beckham jerseys out there that people will go make themselves? Probably. Are we missing an opportunity from a money standpoint? Maybe. But I happen to believe that it's a bit misleading to go sell them the old jersey and then three months from now announce, 'Hey, here's the new jersey,' " he said.

That has not stopped the unscrupulous from trying to tempt the gullible.

One seller in Chicago described a Beckham jersey he was offering at a starting bid of $300: "Many fans are hustling to buy L.A. Galaxy shirts with 'Beckham 23,' " he wrote, "but the rumor is David will be wearing his favorite No. 7.... If David had played for L.A. in 2006, this is the shirt he would have worn."

Unrealistic asking prices mean that not everything to do with Beckham is selling.

A dealer in Florida got no takers when he offered -- at a starting price of $5,000, no less -- a "training top [that] was actually worn by David Beckham. It is signed by David Beckham and four of the Spice Girls -- Posh (Victoria), Emma, Mel C. and Mel B. Beautifully mounted and framed."

Beckham's wife is former pop star and Spice Girl Victoria Adams.

Galaxy season tickets also are being offered on EBay at greatly inflated prices even though they still are available at face value from the club. "David Beckham is history in the making! Be there to witness it!" reads one current EBay offer for two on-field Galaxy season seats at the Home Depot Center at a "buy it now" price of $10,000.

No has jumped to claim them, probably because a limited number of on-field seats still are available through the club at $3,000 apiece.

The Galaxy has not moved to act against the sellers of fake jerseys or those trying to make a quick and profitable turnaround on tickets, according to Tom Payne, the team's assistant general manager.

"I called Adidas and they actually said they really can't do a lot about it," he said. "They said they just can't kind of keep up with it and they can't worry about every little thing and they're hoping it's just small numbers."

Still, Beckham has been a hit with EBay sellers and buyers ever since the star's pending move from Real Madrid to Los Angeles was announced.

For instance, one English dealer in Beckham's home city of London offered a copy of "My World," a 2000 Beckham biography. The book, No. 239 in a limited edition of 1,500 signed and numbered copies, sold for $166.41. Another copy of the same book is now being offered on EBay at $196.91, with a startling "buy it now" price of $984.65.

However, there are two copies of the book available online through rare book dealers in England at just more than $400 apiece.

Elsewhere, a 1997 Upper Deck trading card showing Beckham in an England national team uniform was touted as being certain to climb in value. "This is already a scarce card, and with Beckham coming to the USA to play in Major League Soccer this card will soon become virtually unobtainable," read the EBay seller's pitch. He received $57.99 for it.

An EBay seller in Kansas managed to get $97.50 for an official MLS soccer ball that the seller said "will be the ball that David Beckham uses when he plays for the L.A. Galaxy this upcoming MLS season."

A replica California license plate, personalized to read "Beckham 23," sold the same day on EBay for $19.95.

Already flourishing online now, Beckham-mania is expected to spiral into an even higher orbit with his anticipated midsummer arrival in Los Angeles. But the caveat emptor warning remains.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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