The long and winding road of David Beckham’s stadium saga in south Florida is nearing the final stages. After years of discussion centering on “sexy” sites on the water and close to Marlins Park, the former England International did what he should have done from the get-go – settle on a practical site that is near public transit.
Publicly, MLS demanded a downtown stadium and Beckham wanted one with a vista. The optics were important to a league trying to appear to be doing something different in a market where MLS had previously flopped, though that was a completely different era. Instead the site chosen, referred in the media as a the “4th or 5th choice,” was far and away the most practical. Located two blocks from a the Miami Metrorail’s Culmer Station, which is on both the Orange and Green lines, easy connections are available to Broward and Palm Beach County via TriRail, the local commuter rail system.
What was especially telling about the march to Beckham’s stadium deal and MLS’ official position is that the prospective owner and league knew so little about the market they were tackling. We heard about them wanting to create a Seattle-like flavor with a march to the stadium, but Florida isn’t the Pacific Northwest and that culture that grew organically in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver is unlikely to ever be manufactured in the Miami area. We heard about the need for the stadium to be downtown although the majority of long-term fans of American club soccer live further north in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton areas. We heard about the need to engage the massive local Latino population but all of the earlier proposed sites were far away from existing public transit rail lines. Miami-Dade County is a lower income area demographically and being close to public transit is a must if you want to engage the passionate Latinos that love the sport.
It seems the demographics of the types of people who watch MLS is often forgotten – fans of the US National Team, existing middle class soccer supporters and Latinos. All of them benefit from being close to public transit. In the end, Beckham’s group got the site location spot on, but they could have avoided the delay of two years had they focused on this location earlier.
The accessibility to Broward County, where most existing fans of American pro soccer in south Florida live, cannot be underestimated. Looking closely at the timings for both TriRail and Metrorail, it will take somewhere between 60-80 minutes to reach the stadium from Downtown Fort Lauderdale’s train station. While it’s quicker to drive, parking is an issue at the new stadium location. But that won’t be an issue with rail passengers, and many might use that option to get to the games. The public transit option would not have existed at any other proposed site. The same can be said for fans from Kendall, Coral Gables and Hialeah — all of whom now will have easy rail connections to the game.