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David Beckham

Time to stop the jokes about Miami being a bad soccer market

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.

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  1. Walter

    March 28, 2014 at 3:59 am

    Pedro while I agree that Miami should get another chance at having a MLS franchise, your reasons don’t have a solid foundation. First and foremost the attendance figures for international friendlies are high because of the quality of the event. These friendlies proved that Miami is an international soccer town, not necessarily a MLS town. Can you imagine the new stadium selling out 25k seats for a Columbus Crew match? The disparity between watching CR7 and watching Landon Donovan types will be glaring. Second you attempted to show that there is decent fan support ( the Heat) even during bad seasons. You conveniently did not point out the entire context of that “fact”. You failed to point out that the Heat hovered around the 15k average for 10+ years. Furthermore, you failed to mention how for two straight seasons after the 15-67 campaign the Heat saw a considerable drop in attendance. And let’s not forget during the first LeBron finals run, there were plenty of empty seats. The point is that the 25 year history of the Heat is a microcosm of all the pro Miami teams. You have highs and lows in attendance, but never consistently high. If Beckham can’t produce a winning club, watch out. The facts speak for themselves: Miami is not a strong sports town. I think of it as San Diego East. With all that being said, I hope the club succeeds. If Beckham can successfully market the club to Miami’s diverse demographic, I believe it can.

  2. Casey G

    March 27, 2014 at 5:57 am

    to the person that wrote this whack article, come back at us after the franchise has had a few years under its belt, then you can make your argument. no point in bringing in all of these “what-if” scenarios.

  3. Greg

    March 27, 2014 at 4:44 am

    Minor league success is a very good indicator of major league success. See Seattle, Portland & Montreal. But miracles can happen too. See Kansas City, Philly & Houston, with no history of pro soccer success until new owners did it right. Right location, strong investment in players,promotion & stadium could work in Miami.
    You need an open air stadium on the water, for a nice breeze with roof over stands like LA so fans are dry, and a couple marquee names from Europe & Brazil. You need 20k average in MLS to break even so that’s your goal. Beckham talked Robbie Keane into coming to LA & now he’s top striker in MLS.

  4. Chris

    March 26, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    I want MLS to work in Florida(again), just as bad as the next guy. I just lived there for over 22 years, and people can be fickle when it comes to sports.

  5. Lenny

    March 26, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    Uh…Not sure about #3. Seattle had 66,848 in 2009 for a friendly with FC Barcelona. 2011, for their final regular season match, 64,140 attended. 67,052 came to watch when they got their butts handed to them by Manchester United. And if you were referring to 2012 and specifically Chelsea, Sounders played against Chelsea and the attendance for that match was 53,309. To me that’s pretty impressive since you were citing AC Milan vs Chelsea and not an MLS team.

  6. Roy

    March 26, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    Why don’t you post the attendance number for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, or Miami FC, or Fort Lauderdale Strikers? This is a more accurate picture than talking about Brazil, Barcelona, etc.

  7. Roy

    March 26, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    This article is awful. The main argument for Miami being a good place for an MLS team is that they drew crowds to see the world’s best teams in friendly tournaments? Isn’t that what most people are arguing- that Miami fans will only come out of their shells when some major sporting event is happening and not to support their local team? Additionally, soccer fan and MLS fan are two VERY VERY VERY different things. You cannot use one to argue for or against the other. You really think Miami will be selling out the stadium to see their team vs the New England Revolution in mid season after all the excitement has faded? NOPE! This franchise, unfortunately, is going to be VERY difficult to maintain.

  8. Alexander L Gago

    March 26, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    Come on Pedro you know very well, the fact you listed here are well presented, but fail to point out that Miamian’s are event novelty based soccer spectators not fans.

    The true soccer aficionados are up north, you know, north of the Dade Broward county line where Fort Lauderdale Striker play. Win or lose in a historic soccer stadium that smells like old soccer boots worn by historic soccer players. They are the soccer keepers of SFL, maybe you should write about true soccer fans and get out of your home and watch an NASL game?

    • Pedro Heizer

      March 26, 2014 at 5:13 pm

      Hey Alex,

      Believe it or not, I’ve been covering the Fort Lauderdale Strikers going on 4 years this upcoming season.

  9. NC

    March 26, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Here’s another thing about using these international games as examples: they’re one off events. It is supply and demand at it’s finest. Supply a massive market one or two games a year, and give them the biggest clubs in the world, of course the stadium will fill. Notre Dame Football sold out a tackle football game in Ireland last year. Doesn’t mean University of Dublin, or whatever school, should build a 30,000 seat stadium and launch a tackle football team. South Florida has a 40 year track record for athletics support (non support) and that is plenty evidence to suggest that this team is not drawing 20K a game. I think the expectations need to be tweaked.

    • OD

      March 26, 2014 at 4:31 pm

      NC – this is probably the most concise counter-argument I have seen thus far. Well put.

  10. moe

    March 26, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    I like how top European clubs can be compared to a new MLS franchise.

    Should we talk about the Strikers attendance numbers?

    • Strikers Fan

      March 26, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      The Strikers aren’t in MLS. They aren’t asking anyone to give them “the same money as the other Florida pro teams” as a handout. They aren’t petulantly demanding to be given for next to nothing some of the most expensive buildable land left in Dade County, land that the County has an obligation to tax payers to ensure is ued in such a way that it generates money for county coffers. MLS in Miami inno way shape or form will EVER be a money-MAKING proposition. Ever. Count on it. As for the Strikers attendance, if the team was owned by someone that wasn’t as cheap as Traffic and would actually hire a full time dedicated sales staff, advertise their product properly, and invest in a much better stadium situation, they could have much higher attendance. No one’s claiming the Strikers do everything right. But if Beckham had done his homework and really cared about where the fans are in the tri-county area who would actually support a local American soccer club, he’d have seen downtown Miami was about the last place he should be looking to build a stadium and put a team.

  11. yespage

    March 26, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Based on this article, I think we can restart the jokes about attendance for a Miami MLS franchise.

    For historical purposes, the Fusion attendance was:
    1998: 10,284
    1999: 8,689
    2000: 7,460
    2001: 11,177

    • Mufc77

      March 26, 2014 at 2:02 pm

      I lived in south florida during the Miami fusion era and never once did I ever consider going to watch them play and I actually thought at the time south florida was a good spot for a futbol team given it has such huge Latin influences.

      The problem is those fans who come from South/central American countries still religiously follow the teams they grew up with and they arnt going to change allegiances just because some third rate league puts a team in their city. At best those people are never going to be anything other than casual fans and a team can’t survive off of a casual fan base.

      • tim

        March 26, 2014 at 4:54 pm

        Third rate….riiiggghhht because the South American leagues that you speak of are so highly watched…..Get real

        • Mufc77

          March 26, 2014 at 9:32 pm

          Oh I’m sorry did I upset the sad insecure little MLS fan.

          • fckEuroSnobs

            March 27, 2014 at 11:05 am

            Cause United are just a shiny example of fine football, how’s moyes doing again? Besides isn’t Kansas city undefeated vs man united?

  12. Harry Cee

    March 26, 2014 at 11:13 am

    for point number 2. There were a few factors about the DC match. For one the Liverpool and Tottenham match was the SAME DAY as the DC v PSG game and then there was also the weather. Hot as Hades that day followed by a rainstorm that evening and furthermore that Chelsea v Inter Milan match up WAS SUPPOSED to be in DC at fed Ex Field but fell through, so Florida benefited from that.

    You’re welcome 🙂

  13. Aaron

    March 26, 2014 at 10:49 am

    Look I get it, I know that people have this thinking of Miami and their sport base and quite frankly, they are on the money. But I have to agree that this just feels different, why? well for the most part it’s people uniting and asking for it…The Ultras, MLS Miami Bid, etc. have been instrumental in making their voice heard…and they are growing…this isn’t 1996 when they closed their eyes and said, ok teams here, here , here and oh Miami to fill the quota….no its coming because we want it and there’s a hunger for it..From the Miami cup to the International friendlies the hunger has shown….Now if they place a team that only shows up and doesn’t perform well then you’re gonna get empty stadiums, but really with Beckham running this outfit…this team is destined to not only place, but to show and win.

    • Mufc77

      March 26, 2014 at 10:58 am

      Once again just because people show up to watch Barcalona doesn’t mean they will show up to watch the Miami Caliente or whatever stupid name they come up with. Hardcore futbol fans who have supported and followed a team their hole lives aren’t going to suddenly start to religiously follow a MLS team,

    • OD

      March 26, 2014 at 4:25 pm

      The Ultras are a Ft. Lauderdale Strikers supporter group.

  14. Mufc77

    March 26, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Your comparing apples to oranges when it comes to top international club teams to a MLS team. Its going to fail spectacularly once the novelty wears. People will soon realize sitting in a stadium when its 90+ degrees and 100% humidity isn’t a fun day out especially when it involves watching a struggling futbol team,

    • CTBlues

      March 26, 2014 at 12:43 pm

      The Marlins were smart to put a retractable roof on the new stadium. The soccer team would be smart to do that same or use a system that is similar to the Arizona Cardinals stadium.

    • OD

      March 26, 2014 at 4:23 pm

      I”m glad to see the word “novelty” used here because I am sure in the team’s first few games when the place does have some decent numbers that there will be a plethora of idiots saying “see I told you so!”

  15. NC

    March 26, 2014 at 10:35 am

    Citing Heat attendance is really poor. That season you mentioned was two years removed from being world champions, and they had one of the top five basketball players in the world on their team at the time (Wade). As NBA teams tend to do they basically tanked the season to increase their odds for the lottery (which fetched them Beasley). Also, none of the teams you mentioned in your soccer game analysis are going to be playing in MLS. No Brazil, Barca, Madrid, Chelsea, or Milan. All these “ingredients” you speak of are the same ingredients that were discussed for Marlins attendance, and look where that has gotten them. The criticism isn’t directed at soccer fans, it is directed at the Miami population. It is a front running town. They’ll come out for a winner and thats it.

    • NC

      March 26, 2014 at 10:38 am

      I’d love to be wrong about this, but I won’t be sadly.

  16. Strikers Fan

    March 26, 2014 at 10:16 am

    Wow. I don’t normally disagree with your stuff Pedro, but this is WAY off base. Every single one of your “examples” above completely ignores an importan fact – none of those games are American club soccer matches. First, Miami is an event town. What’s the hot thing for the it people to go do this week. In the cases of those international quality matches, they were it. MLS soccer is a FAR FAR FAR cry from Ac Milan vs. Chelsea. And the people who pack Sun Life to see Barca and the Colombian national team couldn’t give a rat’s arse about MLS. This hasn’t changed. Beckham also came off like a petulant child the other night in Miami demanding the same subsidies NFL teams get. David isn’t used to people telling him no. He’s going to have a life-changing experience when he’s told no for stadium subsidies and to put his stadium, funded 100% by himself, somewhere other than the extremely valuable land in the port of Miami.

  17. goatslookshifty

    March 26, 2014 at 10:08 am

    MLS is played in the middle of summer. Miami is very hot in the summer. 25,000 people won’t like paying a lot of money to sit in a stadium when it’s 100 degrees for two hours on a regular basis.

    • Harry Cee

      March 26, 2014 at 11:16 am

      well sorry, for other outdoor sports such as American baseball and American football they do and not just in Miami and those games lasts much longer than 2 hrs.

      • Michael

        March 26, 2014 at 11:31 am

        For American baseball they notoriously don’t.

        The Marlins fleeced the locals for a shiny new stadium, but last year they were still 29th out of 39 teams in attendance, averaging 19,584, significantly less than 25k.

        Once again, you CAN look this stuff up…

        • Michael

          March 26, 2014 at 11:32 am

          Sorry, 29th out of 30, not 39.

    • Michael

      March 26, 2014 at 11:24 am

      Not to mention they’re all asked to walk a significant distance in the summer heat to do that.

      Also, regarding the Lakers’ supposed attendance fail, in 2014 simply writing “that place is practically empty” is proof of nothing. It IS possible to actually look that stuff up and see that the “empty” Staples center is 99% sold this year. Granted that LA fans are notorious for no-showing, but if they aren’t in the building they’re certainly hanging on to their tickets.

      I don’t think South Florida shouldn’t get another bite of the MLS apple, but I certainly wouldn’t use any of this as proof they will pack a 25,000 seater. Especially not the one Beckham is proposing.

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