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Could Beckham’s Miami Experiment Kill Local Pro Soccer?

The Fort Lauderdale Strikers just completed a season where the club set an average attendance record for a local lower-division professional club, breaking a mark that was set a quarter-century ago in during the 1988 APSL season. The continued discussion of David Beckham’s potential Miami MLS team has raised concerns about the long-term viability of pro soccer among some fans. Last week’s announcement that Orlando City SC will move from the lower-division USL Pro to MLS in 2015 satisfied the thirst some hard-core fans in Florida had towards the desire to see MLS return to the state of Florida. The lingering bitterness towards MLS’ post-2001 season departure from the state of Florida subsided substantially with the Orlando announcement.

The most active local supporters group Flight 19 which supports the Strikers have pledged to continue supporting the club even after an MLS club is awarded to the region. Compounding this reality is the potential geographic problem a Miami team faces if they play too far south, away from the existing pro soccer fan-base. What is also apparent is that the MLS team has no clear idea where it wants to play long-term with published reports recently discussing the Port of Miami, and a 75,000 seat stadium somewhere in Miami-Dade County while internet rumors indicate the prospective team may want to build a stadium at Tropical Park which would ground share with the University of Miami football team. (It should be noted the UM Football team has a generous lease agreement with the Miami Dolphins and moving out of that facility will probably cost the Athletic Department $$$ even if the move brings the team closer to the Coral Gables campus)

Beckham’s MLS team certainly has a shot to succeed but may face long odds if those advising the global football superstar do not do enough homework on the market. While the celebrity factor might attract southeast Floridians to a few games, if my thinking about a Spanish-language dominant side isn’t followed, the team could provide a doomsday scenario for the sport in the region.

Let us assume for a moment Beckham takes the “all things to all people” approach rather than taking the hyper-local Hispanic approach I have previously suggested. Beckham’s team reaches out to everyone but it becomes obvious quickly that the southeast Florida/Miami sports market once again only loves winners of the highest class and an MLS team with only 3-4 recognizable names doesn’t fit that. The team plays in a temporary facility like FIU Stadium where the minuses outweigh the pluses and despite trying to create a good impression with Brand Beckham’s marketing machine, they fall flat in an image conscious market.

In this scenario the realistic average attendance for the MLS team would be in the neighborhood of 14,000 per game. The Strikers, unable to compete with an MLS team that is 20-25 miles south shuts down leaving a disaffected and bitter group of fans who won’t drive south to see the MLS games. These fans switch their allegiances to other sports such as the NHL’s Florida Panthers or to the Premier League which they can watch easily on NBC and NBCSN. Compounding matters is the demographic challenge faced by a team that opts to play in Miami rather than Fort Lauderdale or Boca Raton. Census data clearly shows that the further north you go in the metro area, the more likely you are to find residents who have disposable income to pay to attend pro soccer matches.

The market if appealing to a mass audience tends to only gravitates to winners. The Miami Dolphins have been in the bottom seven of the NFL’s attendance three years in a row in a football mad market. With MLS rules not being dissimilar from NFL, the idea that Beckham could create a “super-club” that could appeal to the masses is off-target. The hyper-local approach could and should work but it looks as if this is not going to be the strategy for this club.

Major League Soccer can succeed in Miami. But unlike Orlando, where despite some questions it is more than likely to be a smashing success with an established club and committed supporters’ base, small details could crush the project. If the project fails, southeast Florida could become a wasteland for pro soccer again, much like it was in the 2002-2005 time period. The risk is too great to do this the wrong way.

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  1. Alex Gago

    November 28, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    I followed MLS, NASL & USPRO. Targeting Hispanics and marketing into them and assuming they will come out because its soccer did not work for the USL PRO Phoenix Wolfs. PHX Wolfs assumed the exa thing and marketed into heavy populated Mexican population but the would not support the club they did not come out and the Wolfs folded this year.
    In doing my homework the only solution that will captivate event base driven SFL image base sports fan for the long term sustainability is for David and MLS with traffic sport announce that Strikers deal and with 25 million in capitol improvements to Lockhart stadium would formalize the Striker brand once in for all. This is the only working successful solution for the community and investors.

  2. Rev Tony Turner

    November 28, 2013 at 3:52 am

    Jeff your fantasy world is worse than mine!Sadly Becks is not an astro physo genious Vic wears the pants.My dad had first hand trouble backin UK Alderley Edge home of the Beck’sShe is a foul mouthed bitch.I think Victoria will tell us where the team plays in what self designed shirts & what time of day.

  3. Jeff Franks

    November 27, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    Beckham is Beckham. He is not going to take another club that has very low appeal in South Florida. He is much smarter than that.

    He will create a hyped up new club with an incredibly hip & snazzy marketing plan behind a la Miami Heat to wow over the fans.

    Contrary to what the author is saying here … a broad approach makes the most amount of sense. The Miami Heat do not TARGET Hispanics. IF you target Hispanics they get turned off. They understand that MLS isn’t Champions League so don’t try going after them all in Spanish or they will say … ok bring me Barcelona then!

    All in all, Beckhams team will have GREAT SUCCESS if … the place the team in a GOOD LOCATION. They idea about playing at the Port of Miami is BRILLIANT and would be an instant HIT!

    • Zach Reese

      November 28, 2013 at 4:17 pm

      I applaud Becks and his team for thinking outside the box with the whole Port Of Miami thing, but I worked on Dodge Island for 5 months in 2011 and even on regular weekdays it’s tough getting out of there with the port traffic and 18 wheelers. The new tunnel will no doubt help, but with 25-30k (my estimate on capacity) people leaving all at the same time your looking at a 30-40 minute drive just to get back to I95. And for the last 4 months now I have been parking on NW 8th street and taking the MetroMover to Brickell which is also a nightmare sometimes on regular work days. Packed little trains that break down every other day. The Brickell Loop was out of service yesterday for 8 hours.

      Downtown for Golden Balls FC is going to be a tough road to go down. A location slightly north in MidTown would be much better for them IMO, especially with the gambling and entertainment options in that area on the horizon.

      Also, I agree with the focused Hispanic marketing plan. I think if you approach it with that mentality you have a much better chance at organic growth in your support and fan base rather than a purchased white collar phony fan base willing to give up on you at the drop of a dime.

    • F19

      November 30, 2013 at 8:45 pm

      You said it yourself, MLS isn’t Champions League or anything close to it. The Heat work because even when they don’t have LeBron and Wade on the team, they are still in the best basketball league on Earth.

      The best MLS teams don’t draw because of “star power” on the field. They draw because of strong local ties, and a community feel to the team. Portland, KC, Seattle, Vancouver, Montréal, Salt Lake, Philly etc. Between all of those teams there is maybe one player with any kind of real mass appeal (Dempsey). The fans turn out whether the team is winning or losing and no matter who is on the team.

      People will put up with traffic nightmares and $25+ parking fees downtown for the Heat. They won’t do it for MLS soccer past the first game.

  4. Dean Stell

    November 27, 2013 at 9:19 am

    Kartik – Is there a reason why Beckham and the Strikers owners don’t just come together? I assume there is a reason or it would be happening, but it would seem to make sense for Beckham to come on board as an investor in the Strikers and then use his MLS expansion right to take the Strikers into MLS.

    Is there a personality clash between the two groups? Is Beckham only interested in doing something new? Do the Strikers not want to take on investors?

    I’m just curious because it makes a lot of sense, yet it doesn’t seem like that option has ever been on the table.

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      November 27, 2013 at 9:31 pm

      Dean I think the whole NASL/Traffic v MLS thing prohibits the groups from working together. It is a shame because the Strikers are the established quality soccer brand locally going back to 1977 and starting another brand anew is going to require far greater marketing and educational $/commitment than with the Strikers brand. Some would argued Traffic has not been the best custodian of the brand, but it is brand that is powerful more than the current ownership and MLS would be wise to latch onto it the way they reluctantly accepted the Sounders and eventually latched on to Timbers, Whitecaps, Impact and now Orlando City.

      • Uncle Ed

        November 28, 2013 at 12:36 am

        I don’t agree with a portion of what Kartik writes in his article but in his reply to Dean he hits it on the nail. I think everyone would have been happy if Traffic & Beckham would have sat down together and worked things out. Strikers in MLS would have been ideal and I’m sure a large amount of people would have driven up from Miami-Dade to see games. Seems it’s too late for that now. Worst part of it is that the Strikers need a stadium. Seems they are waiting to see what happens down South before they make a move.

      • F19

        November 30, 2013 at 8:38 pm

        Beckham and MLS clearly aren’t interested in the *Fort Lauderdale* Strikers. I remember talking with Aaron Davidson(head of Traffic USA) at Don Garber’s meeting with fans in early 2011 before the combine. He said Garber was puzzled why they would want to take the “Fort Lauderdale” name and not “Miami” or “South Florida”. Davidson himself required serious convincing to get the team name right and be the Fort Lauderdale Strikers when Miami FC rebranded in 2011. In that same conversation Davidson tried to use Garber’s comments as justification to not use Fort Lauderdale(most of the fans at the time supported the proper Fort Lauderdale Strikers name and Davidson was always noncommittal on the issue throughout the rebranding process).

        MLS doesn’t respect Fort Lauderdale’s soccer history and they never have. Otherwise they would not have had the Miami Fusion playing in the home of the Strikers. I guess great history with guys like Müller, Cubillas, Hudson, Best etc. and good fan support are not sexy enough for MLS. And by entertaining the idea of FIU, Marlins Park or a new downtown Miami stadium, they can’t be counting on a large amount of support from parts north of the Dade/Broward County line.

        Now it looks like Lockhart Stadium is likely to be renovated and paired with a world class entertainment attraction in the Schlitterbahn waterpark. The Strikers could very well have their stadium situation all set.

        MLS and Becks want to make their bed in Miami. Let them lay in it. We’ll be at Lockhart.

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