David Beckham is considering either Marlins Park or FIU Stadium as the temporary home for his Miami MLS franchise, according to Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez as reported by The Miami Herald.
A final decision has yet to be reached. And the comment from the Miami mayor is, of course, self-serving and biased in his favor, so there’s still an opportunity for Beckham to scout other locations than these two sites. At least I hope so.
And so begins the stadium debate, which may soon generate in a stadium debacle. Nothing has been confirmed. The team hasn’t even officially been announced yet, but if David Beckham selects Marlins Park or FIU Stadium as a temporary site for his Miami MLS franchise, his first move as an owner of a MLS team is one that’ll worry many of the South Florida residents who don’t live in Miami-Dade.
My concern is that because Beckham is being advised by Miami businessman Marcelo Claure (who has his own interests to protect as a member of the board of trustees of Florida International University), Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Simon Fuller (who isn’t from the area), then they’re basing their decisions purely on a Miami-centric viewpoint. By doing so, and putting the Miami MLS franchise in a temporary home of Marlins Park or FIU Stadium, they’re thumbing their noses at Broward County and Palm Beach County to the north, which represents a population base of 3.2 million (56% of the population of South Florida).
Of course, this is only based on a temporary home. A long-term solution of a stadium site near the Miami-Dade County line would be an ideal preferred location for the Miami MLS franchise because it would (1) be more accessible for residents of all three counties, and (2) still be able to retain the Miami name.
If the Miami MLS team selects either Marlins Park or FIU Stadium as its temporary home, the next most telling sign will be where it plans on building a permanent home. Even as a temporary site, Marlins Park or FIU Stadium will have a sold-out opening night. The concern is whether there are enough loyal soccer fans in Miami to continue to support the team six months later after the novelty has worn off.
The reality is that club teams have failed on a consistent basis in Miami. There has never been a successfully supported soccer club team in Miami, while teams in Broward County — to the north of Miami — have averaged much higher attendances for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers to Miami FC to Miami Fusion and to the latest incarnation of the Strikers.
If the permanent home for the Miami MLS team is built near either Marlins Park or FIU Stadium, both of those locations would discourage fans from Broward County and Palm Beach County from attending on a regular basis because of long commutes and traffic congestion. In doing so, Beckham then would put the team in the risky position of relying on Miami-Dade County soccer fans to support the team. And as I’ve mentioned earlier, the track record is strewn with a history of failures.
While the sight lines at Marlins Park in downtown Miami are terrible for soccer (not surprising being a baseball stadium) and FIU Stadium is a modular stadium with poor facilities and an even poorer location (stuck in the middle of a college campus, and not conveniently located for soccer fans from the two northern counties), what other suitable options are there for Beckham to consider? The better alternative would have been Sun Life Stadium (which could use a tarp similar to what the Seattle Sounders does, when needed). The benefit of Sun Life Stadium is that the venue is practically unused from February through August, while a Miami MLS franchise at Marlins Park would have to compete with a baseball team whose schedule overlaps with MLS. The capacity of the stadium is too large for a MLS team in the Miami market, but which would be worse? A stadium that was more accessible for all three counties (Sun Life Stadium), a baseball stadium with poor sight lines that’s not made for soccer, or a college-football stadium that is not befitting a MLS team and would only be frequented by mostly Miami residents (who came out in their hundreds for some Miami FC games at the stadium)?
FIU Stadium could upgrade its playing turf (from its bouncy and uneven field turf)) as well as improving its facilities to make it into a less than perfect temporary solution.
But the true test for Beckham and his investors/advisors will be when they share their plans for a permanent stadium. Those blueprints will shine light on whether they understand the market or not, and whether they’ll make it “Miami’s team” or “South Florida’s team.”
Before he makes his final decision, let’s hope that Beckham speaks to advisors who represent South Florida, not just Miami.