When artist renderings of David Beckham’s proposed Miami MLS stadium were unveiled on Monday, the Internet responded with its typical negative and stereotypical comments about Miami as a sports town. Some of the few choice comments included:
“looks good except the stadium will be half full most of the time”
“half full?! I’d be surprised if it was 1/4 full…”
“With only about 8000 seats filled…lol”
The jokes and snide comments about attendances in South Florida are stereotypes that were born more than a decade ago, but soccer fans won’t open their eyes to the trends from the past five years or more.
It’s time to destroy the myth that South Florida has poor attendances for soccer games.
Miami has been getting a lot of heat lately thanks to Englishman David Beckham and his intentions of bringing a Major League Soccer franchise to the Magic City. Beckham has said he believes Miami is a strong sports market, and believes MLS in Miami has everything to be a complete success.
People who are not from Miami tend to disagree with everything Beckham, and most of MLS Miami supporters have been saying that for the past couple of years. Naysayers will point at the low attendance at nearly every other major sport the city of Miami has as reasons to not have an MLS franchise in the city.
However, comparing something like hockey or baseball to soccer is like comparing apples and oranges. They are not the same thing. Poor attendances at Miami Marlins or Florida Panthers games have no relevance to attendances at soccer games.
Let’s take a closer look at the facts.
1. Last summer, the International Champions Cup was played in Miami over two days. In those two days, the average attendance was 52,893. The final day of the tournament at Sun Life Stadium had an attendance of 67,273, which was greater than any of the games played in New York/New Jersey, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other major metropolitan cities in the United States.
2. When the World Football Challenge came to Miami in 2011 with a matchup between Barcelona and Chivas de Guadalajara, 70,080 fans packed Sun Life Stadium to watch the match.
3. In 2012 when AC Milan played Chelsea, 57,748 fans attended the game, which was the largest attendance of the World Football Challenge. The record crowd beat attendances in Seattle, Toronto, New York, Washington DC, Philadelphia and other North American cities.
4. Soccer has shown time and time again that it is one of the biggest sports in South Florida. Just last year, Brazil played Honduras at Sun Life Stadium to a record crowd of 71,124 fans, which was the largest crowd Brazil had in its recent World Tour — and it set a record for the most-attended soccer game in Florida history.
5. In plenty of other games in South Florida, soccer has had impressive attendances including the 51,615 who turned out for the friendly between Colombia and Mexico in 2012, and the 48,327 attendance for the 2012 World Soccer Masters game.
Naysayers will says that “Fans will only show up to when the teams are doing well, or only where there are big games going on.”
While I won’t completely disagree with that argument, I want to point out that Miami is no different to most parts of the country when it comes to sports. Have you taken a look at the Staples Center lately when the “mighty” Los Angeles Lakers have been playing? It’s practically empty.
Even when they the Miami Heat the laughing stock of the league at 15-67 during the 2007-2008 NBA Season, the Miami Heat averaged 19,463 fans at their home games, which was still good enough to be in the Top 10 in the NBA, beating out teams like the Lakers, Spurs, and Celtics. This season, the back-to-back NBA Champions are averaging 19,765 fans, only 302 more fans on average than when they were one of the worst teams in the league.
Furthermore, in a recent poll Sports Business Journal, Miami has the highest percentage of fans in the United States claiming to be “very or somewhat interested” in MLS among markets without a team (12.5%). In contrast, Orlando ranks 19th in the same poll with only 8.2% of fans claiming any interested in MLS.
Miami has all the right ingredients to make soccer work. It has the location, it has the people, it has the fans, and now it has the owner in place that wants to see the team succeed.
There are plenty of questions left unanswered as of right now when it comes to Beckham’s MLS Miami franchise, but to say the team will fail because Miami sports fans won’t show up is just wrong.
It’s time to stop labeling Miami and South Florida as a poor soccer market. Instead, it’s time to realize that Miami is an integral part of soccer in the United States.
Remember, it’s 2014, not 2001. We want MLS. We will support MLS.