Saturday night in South Florida saw Miami FC play its last game. The team next season will be renamed the Strikers, the name that graced one of the most famous soccer institutions in U.S. soccer history, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. But success is far from guaranteed.
A crowd of 1,684 came out to Lockhart Stadium to watch an evenly matched game between Miami FC and Puerto Rico Islanders. The passionate Miami Ultras fans banged their drums and sang their songs throughout the game. And as a fitting tribute, as soon as the whistle blew for the 1-1 draw, the Ultras took down their Miami FC blue and white banners and unfurled the red and yellow colors of the Strikers. Next season, a new dawn will rise on soccer in South Florida.
Saturday’s final game of the season, and of Miami FC’s history, closed another chapter in the history of the game in South Florida. Miami FC joins a long list of teams that have joined the dead pool in South Florida soccer such as Miami Fusion, Miami Toros, Miami Gatos, the different reincarnations of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Miami Sharks and Miami Freedom.
But the big question is whether anything will really change this next time around? There’ll be a new name, new colors, new logo and new players. But in charge will be the same team owner, Traffic Sports. But will they finally make a connection with the soccer fans in South Florida to bring them out in larger numbers to Lockhart throughout the season? My concern is that Traffic Sports doesn’t know or understand the mistakes that have already been made regarding soccer in South Florida and therefore may end up repeating some of them through trial and error.
Rather than adopt a wait and see attitude, I want to share my seven ideas of how soccer can succeed in South Florida with next season’s Strikers:
- Share the vision and the plan. It’s vital for South Florida to understand what Traffic’s plan is for the new Strikers. Is the goal to eventually become a Major League Soccer team? Whether it is or not, what is the team’s plan to attract supporters next season? What marketing initiatives are planned? How can soccer fans or people tapped into the soccer community in South Florida help Traffic achieve these goals? It’s important that the local press and soccer community gets to hear or see this plan so we can all work together to make the Strikers a success. Without improved communication or proper coordination, the Strikers will face the same reality that Miami FC faced: Many soccer fans in South Florida didn’t know they existed. It’s harsh but true.
- Connect with the soccer decision makers throughout South Florida. The hard work begins now for Traffic Sports, not in February. Traffic needs to spend every day now through next spring on the phone and meeting with the key soccer gatekeepers within South Florida to share their plan and to strategize how the community can work together to achieve success. These gatekeepers will then go into their organizations and networks in South Florida to spread the news, encourage soccer fans to join the cause and to organize. The outreach needs to happen throughout Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Traffic needs to organize town hall meetings in each of the counties where they can share their plans and encourage local soccer dignitaries to open their rolodexes. This can not go understated. So far, Traffic Sports has failed to connect with the people in South Florida who will make a difference.
- Create a squad with talent and an identity that represents South Florida. It’s difficult for South Florida residents to feel a connection to the team when the nationality of the players don’t represent the area. Out of the 25 man squad, 11 of them are American while the next best represented country is Brazil with six players. For the Strikers to succeed in 2011 and beyond, the team needs to consider having one or more players from countries such as Haiti, Jamaica, Colombia, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Chile, Honduras, Trinidad & Tobago, England and other countries. But more importantly, the team needs to make sure that they have quality on the field and not just token players from particular countries. A combination of players from the above countries who are talented would be an important ingredient for success.
- Bring back the soccer fans. With the Strikers name, Traffic Sports has a unique opportunity to organize different events to lure the old Strikers fans back to Lockhart Stadium as well as to generate excellent coverage in the local media. A Strikers alumni team against the Fusion alumni would be a wonderful sight to see to bring the fans out. But at the same time, Traffic needs to convince picky soccer fans in South Florida that division two soccer is worth watching. Traffic needs to organize friendlies for the Strikers against high-profile opposition. Traffic also needs to schedule double headers throughout the season to feature a Strikers game followed by two high-profile teams. These games will attract soccer fans in South Florida who have either given up on local professional soccer or who don’t realize they have a team in their own backyard.
- Reach out to the tri-county area. South Florida is one of the most untapped soccer markets in the United States. With a population of more than 5 million, the potential to succeed is massive. However both the Miami Fusion and Miami FC failed miserably in not knowing how to market a team in this region of the country. Now with the Strikers, Traffic Sports has an opportunity to launch a team that will be reborn with a new name and identity. But to succeed it needs to attract soccer fans from all three counties, all of which have tens of thousands of kids playing soccer every Saturday morning in parks throughout South Florida. Traffic needs to do a better job of selling soccer to residents from Jupiter to Coral Gables and everything in between.
- Connect with soccer fans through other means. While many of the above steps will ensure that people connected to soccer organizations throughout South Florida will hear about the Strikers returning to South Florida, that won’t reach everyone. Traffic needs to spend money to make money and that means a larger marketing budget to advertise in papers, radio, television and the Internet. The web is key. Right now the official Strikers website is pitiful. It hasn’t been updated in months and still has GoDaddy advertising on the page. If Traffic Sports is serious about making the Strikers a success, they need to overhaul the website and build a community online so that no matter where people live in South Florida they can interact and organize on the Strikers website and feel like they belong to a movement.
- Be remarkable. The sports market in South Florida has changed considerably since the time when the Strikers were at their zenith. Fickle fans now can choose between the Miami Heat, Miami Dolphins, Florida Panthers, Marlins and other teams. So to stand out from the crowd and to offer residents something different, Traffic Sports needs to be creative to draw in an audience. Why not let kids in for free all season long as long as they’re accompanied by a parent? Why not offer a “Family Pack” deal that includes tickets plus hot dogs and drinks for a low price? And this is just scratching the surface. There’s so much that the Strikers can do if they put their mind to it.
The Strikers have one of the best locations for a sports team in South Florida. It’s centrally located within driving distance for all three counties. Plus the stadium is just down the street from the main interstate. You couldn’t ask for a better location to make this team a success both on and off the pitch.
But the hard work starts now both for Traffic Sports and the soccer fans in South Florida. To make this a success will require coordination between the club and the community. And based on the track record of previous attempts, it’s going to be an uphill battle. But it’s do-able only if everyone sets their mind to it.
As a post script, there’s been a lot of discussion regarding what the team should be named and there have been several ideas floating around by supporters. Take the poll below and let us know what you’d like the new team to be named.