Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber met with the Miami Ultras supporters group and other soccer fans in Fort Lauderdale Saturday for a discussion about bringing a MLS team to South Florida. More than 60 soccer fans attended the 60 minute meeting which featured a speech by Garber, followed by a question and answer session.
The main takeaway from Garber’s speech was that Miami still has a lot of work to do to convince MLS and investors that it’s a viable market.
“Miami needs to change its reputation as a market that believes in professional soccer,” said Garber. “I’m telling you as a guy who’s sitting in New York and promoting soccer matches, we worry about this market. This is a risky market for international soccer. There is no reason why it should be.”
He explained that South Floridians need to do everything they can to organize, congregate and improve attendances for its local team Miami FC, recently renamed as the Strikers, as well as international games such as this summer’s Gold Cup games in Miami to prove to MLS headquarters in New York that South Florida can support Division I and international soccer before its ready to support a Division I team (i.e. a Major League Soccer team).
Garber encouraged the Miami Ultras to grow it’s base of more than 1,000 fans who have pledged to buy season tickets for a MLS team in South Florida to 5,000 or more. With that, as well as improved attendances at Miami FC games to 3,000-4,000 (or 10,000 as Garber half joked), investors will take notice of South Florida and may consider it as a market for a MLS team. Garber also expressed concerns regarding a stadium plan for South Florida.
Several soccer fans in attendance expressed frustration that they’re not receiving any support from the NASL nor MLS to help grow the game in South Florida. Attendees complained bitterly that they’re often the last to know about soccer games or events happening in the region and that it’s only due to blogs and Twitter that they’re able to stay informed. Fans also expressed concern that NASL is not doing enough to advertise Miami FC games. NASL CEO Aaron Davidson, who was in attendance after personally being invited by Garber, said that the message was heard loud and clear and that he would meet with South Florida soccer fans to work together to improve attendances at Strikers games in 2011.
Personally, I walked away from the meeting feeling very disillusioned. The gateway to a MLS team in South Florida needs to be demonstrated through improved attendances at Miami FC/Strikers games, as well as international games, and a larger supporters group. The challenge with this is that Traffic Sports, who owns Miami FC/Strikers, doesn’t seem equipped or willing to spend the money to successfully promote the game to South Florida. It’s been more than three months since the last game of the 2010 season for Miami FC, and we’re still awaiting a decision on what the name of the new team will be. Will it be the Strikers, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Strikers FC or a different name? When a team name has yet to be decided, it’s hard to promote them. And in three months from now, the new season will have begun.
Garber did offer a slim hope by mentioning that the city of Toronto leapfrogged from very small attendances for its semi-professional Toronto Lynx team to a successful MLS team in terms of attendances, but that was definitely the exception. Without a doubt, Garber doesn’t believe in The Field Of Dreams philosophy where if you build a stadium, they will come. Instead, he’s very focused on the famous line from the film Jerry Maguire, i.e. “Show me the money!” Garber wants soccer fans in South Florida, if they really want a team down here, to prove it by doing all of the hard work of promoting games, galvanizing support among soccer fans and helping get butts on the seats.
Soccer fans in South Florida now know they have a long road ahead of them if they want to succeed in bringing a MLS team to South Florida. There are many significant challenges and roadblocks ahead of them. The next few months will be a true test whether the Miami Ultras can push on from here and move their cause to the next level by becoming more organized and growing in numbers. At the same time, New York Cosmos looks like a shoo-in to grab the 20th spot in Major League Soccer, which means that the earliest South Florida could get a team is 2014 unless a MLS team decides to move before that.