David Beckham’s much anticipated Miami MLS team cannot hope to be all things to all people. In a fickle sports market whose propensity for failing soccer franchises and under-appreciated sporting events of every stripe, the only way to go might be a hyper-local approach and Latino-centric approach.
David Beckham is a global superstar and no doubt is counting on “Brand Beckham” to elevate the relevance and prominence of the new team across the globe. However, that will do little if anything to sell tickets locally.
What has become obvious is that Beckham and his partners in this venture want the team to have a strong Miami identity, essentially displacing those fans in Broward and Palm Beach counties that have created the backbone for any local Americanized soccer entity in the past. And that is quite alright if Beckham does things the way he now needs to.
With the decision to jump in bed with Miami-Dade County and the idea of “Miami,” which is more a state of mind than anything tangible, the side should completely avoid the American soccer market. Those interested in MLS in the southeast Florida region will gravitate to the club anyway, and those already committed to support the second-division Fort Lauderdale Strikers who play 20 miles up I-95 will remain with their team. The support for the Fort Lauderdale club is largely Yankee (non-native Floridians who have moved from other parts of the country) and Northern European Ex-Pat (British, Dutch and German). And that demographic can be safely avoided for the new MLS team.
In the South Florida metropolitan area, the population is 5.7 million, two million of whom are Hispanic. In a recent poll of Americans age 12-24, ESPN found that soccer was the second most favorite sport. Only NFL was more popular. Among young Hispanic Americans, soccer was number one.
In the United States, the growth of the Hispanic American population has exploded from 14.6 million in 1980 to nearly 52 million in 2011. The Hispanic population is projected to nearly triple from 2011 to 2050 to 132 million. By 2042, minorities will be the majority in the United States.
Today, the third largest Hispanic American population is clustered in and around Miami-Dade County (see graphic below). Currently, the closest MLS team to South Florida is 1,000 miles away in Washington, DC, so the southeastern US is a huge area of the Hispanic population that is currently untapped.
Beckham’s group should take a very strong Hispanic/Latino approach. Name the team something like Club Deportivo Miami or Futbol Club Miami, and make sure every promotion is done in Spanish, not in English. The PA announcements at the ground should be made exclusively in Spanish (although Florida passed many years ago an ethno-centric/race baiting constitutional amendment deeming English as the official language of the state, it has thankfully never been enforced). Local media rights should be sold in Spanish first. This is especially smart considering the Spanish language press has far greater reach both in terms of TV and Radio in the local market than the English-language press. This is actually the case in Fort Lauderdale-based Broward County as well as Miami-based Miami-Dade County.
Additionally, since concerns have been frequently aired that local Hispanics gravitate to clubs in their own countries rather than in the United States, this approach could help connect with that fan base. It should also be noted that since this tired old argument has been trotted out since the late 1990s, many Americanized fans of the game have turned away from MLS and towards the English game in the period since the Fort Lauderdale-based Miami Fusion were contracted by the league in 2001.
While this may seem extreme to some American soccer fans and also reinforce ugly stereotypes about Miami, it is in a crowded and difficult entertainment landscape that an effort needs to be made to connect directly with the fan base that will support the club. Trying to paint too broad an approach in an American sporting style will only lead to failure. As I have advocated with any soccer club in the fragmented Florida market, hyper-localism and community based appeals are the only thing that works. I know many perceive Miami to be a “go big or go home” market, but that in my opinion is simply wrong. The Florida Panthers of the NHL are about as unsuccessful a franchise in terms of wins and losses as any team in American pro sports, yet their highly localized western Broward County/Yankee immigrant approach has kept the team viable through the years. The team does alright attendance wise given the constant failures on the ice. While critics will claim attendance spikes occur when Montreal, New Jersey or the New York Rangers visit town (each has a large local fan base), the truth is the Panthers do decently well for what they are and where they are in general.
Local soccer supporters connected to the English/German pub culture and Premier League/Bundesliga on television are likely to stick with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at least in the short term. Hispanic fans who have been displaced from the local soccer scene want badly to have a team to call their own. David Beckham can and should provide that, and in the process can create a successful business model that other MLS clubs eager to attract ethnic fans can partly mimic.