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Don Garber’s Insistence On Downtown Miami Location Is An Easy Out For MLS

MLS Commissioner Don Garber reiterated this week that David Beckham must find a downtown Miami location for his MLS stadium. Otherwise, MLS will not expand to the city.

Garber said:

“Miami remains a top priority for us. But we are mindful of the challenges we had in the past and must have the right ownership group and stadium location. David has been working to secure additional partners, all if approved, would be terrific MLS owners. David and his partners have not yet been able to secure a site that we believe provides the proper access and iconic presence that will help ensure success. We remain focused on a downtown Miami location, and we will not expand to Miami unless we have a downtown site for the stadium.”

With Garber, you never know when he’s spinning things. In this case, it looks like he’s politicking in order to apply pressure on the Miami-Dade politicians to know that MLS and Beckham are serious when they want a downtown Miami location for a MLS team. Or does he completely believe it’s a scenario of “downtown Miami or bust”?

A downtown Miami location next to the water would make it one of the most beautiful stadiums in the United States. Garber, MLS and Beckham would be able to get a ton of media coverage and kudos that focused on the stadium, which would fuel numerous feel-good media pieces about the Miami MLS team.

In Garber’s quote, you can read between the lines that the stadium location was one of the reasons why Miami Fusion failed, which is completely untrue. The Lockhart Stadium location was ideal — down the street from I-95, and easily accessible for soccer fans from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. The only reason why the Fusion failed was because owner Ken Horowitz didn’t want to invest in the team any longer, and MLS didn’t want to bankroll the team until a new investor was found.

In Garber’s quote, something else to pay close attention to is that he focuses on two important parts regarding the stadium location. “David and his partners have not yet been able to secure a site that we believe provides the proper access and iconic presence that will help ensure success.”

I don’t blame Garber for wanting a stadium that has an iconic presence. We all want that, but it shouldn’t be the top priority. His point that the stadium be one that “provides the proper access” is peculiar because there are stadiums throughout South Florida that would provide far better access than one that’s locked into downtown Miami. If you live in downtown Miami or Miami Beach, it’s a perfect location. But a downtown Miami location doesn’t provide “proper access” for soccer fans in western Miami-Dade County, or Broward and Palm Beach counties — which is home to the majority of soccer fans in the area.

While Garber’s words may be a way to try to help apply more pressure on Miami-Dade politicians, Garber’s insistence on a downtown Miami location is unfortunate, and here’s why.

South Florida has already proven that a stadium doesn’t have to be in downtown Miami to be a success. There’s already another stadium that has “proper access” (accessible to Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, and next to a major highway). And one that has an “iconic presence” (that faces to the west, to capture the beautiful Florida sunsets). It’s also one that is undergoing a privately-financed $350 million facelift. That location is Sun Life Stadium, on the border of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and easily accessible for soccer fans from all three counties. In November, the stadium set the record for the most-attended soccer game in Florida history when 71,124 fans watched Brazil against Honduras. Last summer, 67,273 fans watched Real Madrid against Chelsea.

Just like Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, the stadium is unused for the vast majority of the year due to its NFL team playing its season from September to January. But unlike CenturyLink Field, the Sun Life Stadium was built to soccer field requirements and features natural grass instead of artificial turf.

Unfortunately, Garber and Beckham are resistant to considering Sun Life Stadium as an option, which would save Beckham’s investors $250 million for estimated stadium costs, because they’re (1) insistent on the stadium being in downtown Miami, and (2) they want to have their own stadium.

It doesn’t make sense.

My question for Don Garber is why is he so adamant about the stadium location being in downtown Miami? What is it about downtown Miami that makes it a “downtown Miami or bust” scenario? Other than the iconic presence, I can only assume that he wants a location that looks and feels like quintessential Miami, and that it’s a must-visit place for tourists and locals in the Miami area.

The danger for Garber and MLS is that by putting so many eggs in one basket and demanding that the stadium only be in downtown Miami, the prospect of a Miami MLS team may vanish completely if they’re unwilling to be flexible. By insisting on having a vanity stadium, Garber and MLS are missing out on all of the benefits of having a team that is more representative (and accessible) to South Florida instead of just Miami.

Instead, Garber has now put the Miami MLS team in a corner where if Beckham doesn’t get a downtown Miami stadium location, it’s an easy out for MLS to exit Miami. Garber can then help Beckham find a different city or team elsewhere, perhaps Chivas USA.

The frustrations with this whole process of trying to bring a MLS team to Miami are that Garber (1) doesn’t understand the market in South Florida, and (2) appears to have one rule for Miami and another rule for MLS. The decision to play New York City FC at Yankees Stadium is less than ideal, and despite no plans for a soccer-specific stadium in place, NYCFC will launch in the spring of 2015. At the same time, MLS Miami is left to twist in the wind as it tries to shoehorn a stadium into downtown Miami.

Meanwhile, a viable option at Sun Life Stadium is ready from day one either as a temporary or permanent solution. To ignore that would be a shame.

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  1. Paul John Hemmers

    August 13, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    With 14 years experience and owning, coaching and playing one of the first Pro teams from Texas, I feel that the Miami area or even northern sector closer to Ft. Lauderdale would be a great location. Being near the water is a bit much, much more pricier real estate that doesn’t actually sell tickets. As a first time expansion team, perhaps first year trial lease and feel out the market and ticket sales would be feasible. I have been to many International games at Sun Life stadium with 50 to 60% capacity. The driving force for ticket sales are the name brand players Involved, and adequate marketing strategies, perhaps a great role model strategy is the busing system from as far north as Treasure Coast north of Palm Beach. Many pubs, bars and other establishments have a marketing plan to provide discount tickets with busing to games for Miami Dolphins. Just an Idea. Do the lease, then make a decision, we are in a fickle society and economy.

  2. ben

    July 30, 2014 at 11:13 pm

    This article hits on many key points… downtown is a must because mls wants to stay in south beach when they’re here. Weston is filled with South American families that love soccer and have disposable income, their kids play in leagues and would scoop up season tickets where as ppl in downtown prefer to spend their money at the clubs/bars. I’m not saying go all the way to Sunrise but Sun Life or next to it is ideal. Granted you don’t have the beautiful waterfront scenery but what you do have is a centrally located and easily accessible venue for the majority of south florida and enough land to allow fans to park, tailgate and even kick a ball around before marching in for the match… downtown gives you none of that, brings in undesirable streets to walk down and an absolute nightmare for parking and getting out of the arena… forbid the heat, marlins and mls miami playing on the same night… it’d take you 90 minutes to get home.. anyways.. play at Sun Life, invest in the best scoreboard, retractable roof, winning team and enjoyable fan experience possible that will bring the masses to matches.

  3. Denise Vail

    July 30, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    MLS could play in where the Marlins play? But it looks certain the David and Don are applying pressure to local political leaders and an exit out of Miami. Pointing the blame for no MLS franchise squarely on Miami leaders and community.

  4. Gringo

    July 30, 2014 at 2:36 am

    Maybe now Garber will insist that Bob Kraft build a SSS for NE Revolution…..


    • Jim Powers

      July 30, 2014 at 8:57 am

      No, he won’t. Kraft got Garber his job, when The Don was a refugee from the failing NFL Europe experiment. No way is Garber pulling down 3 mil a year without being handpicked by Kraft. Garber will never go against him.

      In regards to this stadium thing, I can see them using Sun Life as a temporary stop- but eventually they need to have their own stadium.

  5. WSW

    July 29, 2014 at 8:24 pm

    Well if Garber wants a waterfront downtown stadium he can always look north of Miami to St. Petersburg/Al lang Stadium Home of Tampa Bay Rowdies.

    • Christopher Harris

      July 29, 2014 at 8:32 pm

      At this rate, Tampa is looking like a better solution than Miami.

    • Nature Guy

      July 30, 2014 at 7:22 am

      The site of the current Al Lang Stadium would be everything which Garber & Beckham dream of for their MLS team location: A perfect waterfront location on Tampa Bay–and home of the iconic TAMPA BAY ROWDIES.

  6. StrikerFett

    July 29, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    Garber has always had a hard-on for NY so he will always bend the rules for them. I want MLS in South Florida wherever they build the stadium. Garber needs to enforce the rules to all markets equally. Even if Beckham gets the green light for a stadium, he would still need to recruit top-class talent to fill his roster to bring as much of the fans as possible. The reason SunLife stadium had such record high attendance for those friendly matches is because of the talent on the pitch, not whomever is bankrolling the team. Miami-dade does not want a repeat of the Marlins Stadium and I don’t blame them but they need to be flexible with unused land and let Becks and Co. put a stadium there.

  7. David

    July 29, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    I think part of the issue might be money streams- with their own stadium they would get almost all of them such as ticket sales, luxury boxes, concessions, naming rights, money from other events that the could hold such as friendlies or concerts, etc. At SunLife they would at best get ticket sales and maybe some of the concession sales if that.

  8. Bruce Gottesman

    July 29, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    Yes, it would be nice to have a downtown stadium in Miami. But by far the best place is the Sunrise location, where Broward County Officials have land available.

    The Gaffer has talked about this before, but let me elaborate:

    The boom in population in South Florida, much of it from South America, is not taking place downtown. The I-75/FL-821 route takes up the bulk of this boom, and it runs from SW Dade all the way north to, you guessed it, the BB&T Center where the Panthers play.

    The Sawgrass Expressway can easily connect NE Broward, and its large Brazilian population, and the PB County fans. Also, the western highways are usually a lot easier to navigate than any east-west route for western Dade residents. So the only people who would really be at a disadvantage by the stadium not in downtown Miami are those who are for the most part already there.

    The openness of the Sunrise location is a plus too. Part of the problem the Marlins have had with their new park are the auxiliary concerns that are not at all problems in Sunrise. Parking is already available in the BB&T lots. Shopping and restaurants are already right across the street in the form of the extremely popular Sawgrass Mills Mall. Sure, there’s no public transportation out west, but this is South Florida we’re talking about, where hardly anyone uses public transportation anyway, so that’s not as big a deal as it would be anywhere else.

    Finally, and maybe most importantly, the County owns the land already, and is amenable to offering the land to the MLS team. The Fusion weren’t supposed to play in Ft. Lauderdale, but they couldn’t get a deal with Dade County. There’s no reason to think that this isn’t going to happen again, and for all the reasons I’ve listed, if the MLS people think that South Florida deserves and MLS team then they surely should put the team in Sunrise.

  9. Strikers Fan

    July 29, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    Even if all this posturing and whining by Beckham manages to get him a downtown Miami stadium, it will eventually become nothing more than an EPIC sized money pit. American pro soccer doesn’t work in Miami. Never has. Nothing has changed about Miami to make it work now. JRS and north is the only way you’re going to get a large enough consistent fan base for an American pro soccer team to survive. Assuming the new owners of the Strikers aren’t cheap bastitches like Traffic, everyone will see that scenario play out in the next few years. Meanwhile Beckham and MLS can keep trying to fight with a city completely apathetic to their stadium plan.

  10. Matt B.

    July 29, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    I believe this is Beckham’s team and not MLS’s. You keep saying, MLS wants this or that but it is really what Beckham wants for HIS club. Garber is just reiterating what Beckham and his group want.

    • Christopher Harris

      July 29, 2014 at 12:23 pm

      Possibly. But MLS has the final say. They have to review and approve Beckham’s stadium plans and marketing plans before they would grant Beckham the franchise. If Garber and company don’t approve of Beckham’s plans, then they can prevent him from starting a team in South Florida.

  11. norwalkvirus

    July 29, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    I’ve read that Downtown is key to unlocking the dormant Cubano population’s interest in MLS.

    Going out of town, for Miami, makes it a different flavor and different team.

    I agree that taxpayers should shell out $0 for a new stadium. That said, there should be no problem with selling (not leasing) property to a private owner if that land is under-utilized and already owned by some government.

    • Nature Guy

      July 30, 2014 at 7:12 am

      Cubans (in Cuba) traditionally have baseball as their national sport–not soccer.

  12. Kevin

    July 29, 2014 at 11:31 am

    Damn right there’s “one rule for Miami and another rule for MLS.” The Fusion did fail there, no matter the excuses you provide. And South Florida is a notoriously fickle sports market.

    I’m with Garber 100% on this. A downtown, soccer-specific stadium + Beckham’s high profile is MLS’s best chance for success, not playing in another oversized NFL park. Been there, done that.

    You are flat out wrong, Harris.

    • Christopher Harris

      July 29, 2014 at 11:42 am

      The Fusion did fail in South Florida, but not because of the stadium issue. The reason why wasn’t an excuse. It’s a fact.

      Maybe a downtown stadium plus Beckham’s high profile is the path to success. I didn’t doubt that in the article. But if MLS is unable to get a stadium in downtown Miami when there are other options, that’s a poor excuse to exit Miami.

    • PhillySpur

      July 29, 2014 at 1:02 pm

      I agree. The comparison between NY and Miami is just plain silly. They should be treated differently. NY has a long history of supporting professional teams. Miami and all of Florida is the exact opposite.

      • Christopher Harris

        July 29, 2014 at 1:13 pm

        Let’s keep the discussion focused on soccer instead of traditional American sports. Basketball, NFL and other American sports have nothing to do with soccer.

        In regards to soccer, specifically, New York has an OK history of supporting professional soccer teams. The MetroStars, for years, played in front of small crowds. The Red Bulls are improving but in a market as huge as New York and New Jersey, you would think attendances for both the MetroStars and RBNY would have been far greater than what it has been.

        MLS has a double standard when it comes to New York versus other markets.

  13. Pmac

    July 29, 2014 at 11:06 am

    It would seem like they want to make a grand entrance to MLS with a new team, brand new fancy downtown stadium, and probably a marquee player or two when the time comes. This could take many years, and possibly not even happen at all.

    It seems like it makes more sense to go the route of NYCFC. Find a temporary home, get the team off the ground, while working on a new stadium. They might find out they don’t even need a new stadium. With renovations being done in 2015, and a 27,000+ lower deck seating area, Sun Life Stadium just makes sense.

  14. F19

    July 29, 2014 at 11:02 am

    An even better option than Joe Robbie is Lockhart. People have been coming there for soccer for decades, it’s easily accessible to ALL of South Florida and is about to get much more “sexy” with a $100 million dollar waterpark approved. The stadium is set yo be renovated anyway, Becks could come in and really make it a palace. One that is soccer specific and the right size. JRS, even with the upper levels blocked off somehow, would still be 35,000 seats, way too big for this market.

    Garber is proving that MLS had no idea what they were doing here in 1998, and they still have no idea. Please go to Chivas and work on that train wreck before starting another one here.

  15. Miki

    July 29, 2014 at 11:00 am

    CenturyLink Field was most certainly built with soccer in mind, turf notwithstanding.

  16. christian

    July 29, 2014 at 10:52 am

    It’s Beckham. It has to be all about the show. I’m glad to see the league play hardball here. Miami should not give up land or help develop this stadium at any cost to the taxpayers.

    Put the stadium in Broward county with real investors instead of Beckham and his show.

    PS the league should have played tough with NYCFC as well. There was zero reason to rush this program. No stadium should equal no expansion. Period.

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