In January, MLS Commissioner Don Garber met with soccer fans in South Florida in a public forum where he shared his valid concerns about the 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.”
During the hour long meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Garber challenged South Florida to make significant improvements. Those included increasing attendances at Fort Lauderdale Strikers games to 3,000-4,000 per game, as well as filling the stadium at the Gold Cup games.
Well, South Florida has answered Garber’s call. More than 18,000 fans came out for the two Gold Cup games between Jamaica versus Guatemala and Grenada against Honduras. Meanwhile, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers are enjoying their best season ever in terms of attendance (as a Traffic club in South Florida). Their first home game had an attendance of 6,402, while the attendance for other matches has routinely been over 3,000.
And now, last night, South Florida sent a massive message to Garber and the rest of the United States by setting a record for the largest attended soccer game in Florida history after 70,080 filled Sun Life Stadium for the World Football Challenge game between Barcelona and Chivas De Guadalajara.
In January, Garber told South Florida soccer fans that they needed to do more work to convince MLS and investors that South Florida was a viable market. South Florida have responded. We’re ready.
No one says it’ll be easy. But it’s obvious that there’s a massive appetite in South Florida to see quality soccer in-person. It’s a market that would require a strong management and marketing team to make it a success, but that success is completely possible. And if done well, it could be massive.
Right now, the nearest first division professional soccer team to South Florida is Atlante in Mexico (574 miles away, as the crow flies). Major League Soccer’s closest team is DC United, more than 1,000 miles from Miami. Whether it’s Miami, Atlanta, Orlando, Tampa, Charlotte or elsewhere, it’s a travesty that MLS is non-existent in the Southeastern United States. If MLS wants to consider itself a major soccer league, it needs to build a presence in a corner of the country where MLS is invisible.
Based on the rising attendances in Miami, Tampa and Orlando – just to name three cities in the Southeast – MLS has a lot to choose from.