David Beckham’s continued difficulty in securing the long-term stadium deal he wants in Miami to start a new MLS franchise may have just gotten more complicated. On Friday, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the second-tier North American Soccer League (NASL) were sold to a Brazilian trio – Paulo Cesso, Ricardo Geromel, and Rafael Bertani. On the surface, the sale of a second division club should not impact Beckham’s plans or that of Major League Soccer but here is why it does.
New Strikers Owners have deep pockets and Shared Market
Beckham’s Miami MLS team is still years away from kicking a ball. While MLS has successfully poached other second division markets they have never set up shop in a market as complicated as South Florida where the existing club has owners with comparable financial resources to many in MLS. The estimated net worth of the new Strikers ownership is placed at somewhere near a quarter of a billion dollars. Should the Strikers choose to create a bloody turf war in the area with a significant head start this might just end badly for Beckham and MLS.
For those not familiar with the area, Fort Lauderdale and Miami are 21 miles apart downtown to downtown. In American big city terms, that is virtually around the corner. While it is theoretically possibly for both clubs to coexist in different league in the same market, particularly given the population of nearly six million in the catchment area, southeast Florida is a notoriously fickle market and could very stick with an established brand.
Ricardo Geromel who will serve as the Managing Partner of the club and take over day-to-day management was direct in his appeal on Friday. “Our vision is to boost the level of play in the NASL to the point where local players and fans won’t have to look any further than their own backyards to play and watch world-class pro soccer.”
Paulo Cesso added, “Who is the goalkeeper that made the best save of all World Cups? Gordon Banks! Who do Germans say is their own Pelé? Gerd Muller! Who did Pelé himself say was the best player in the world? George Best! These legends have all played for the Strikers! Other stars that played for our team were Elias Figueroa, Nene Cubillas, Marinho Chagas, and Ray Hudson. These players made us dream. We are proud and ready to announce that we will invest to turn the Strikers back into a household name.”
While this appeal may seem too based on nostalgia, the reality of today’s American soccer fans are that they are more connected to the European club game and legacy of South American National Teams than ever before. MLS’ approach of rebooting history from the mid 1990’s has proven in many parts of the country to fail, and that league has itself begun to embrace some history. But an established name like the Strikers who have yet effectively leverage the legacy of their brand due to budget constraints could have a massive impact in south Florida.
For those who argue the Strikers would then be going down a path similar to the New York Cosmos whose nostalgic-based approach has yielded mixed results, I would submit that the Strikers playing in the same stadium they did originally with many of the same personnel around the club make it more authentic and perhaps more likely to succeed. Additionally, the Cosmos have to contend with the financial juggernaut of Manchester City while Beckham has yet to secure the type of long-term deep-pocketed investors he will need to really make a go in the market.
Lack of Political Will
The situation in Miami-Dade County is perhaps unworkable for Beckham and his people. The naivety of their initial approach and carelessness of the public statements made by both Beckham and MLS early in the process poisoned the well locally. While the City of Fort Lauderdale long had said they were happy to speak to Beckham, Mayor Jack Seiler announced on Friday he is no longer interested in speaking to Beckham with long-term future of the Strikers now secure. Beckham’s public statements have boxed in the global superstar and while published reports and internet rumors keep popping that indicate the former Manchester United star is close to striking a deal locally nothing has been announced yet.
We have discussed time and again why Broward County is a far better anchor for a south Florida professional soccer team than Miami-Dade County. Now that the Strikers have the type of ownership that will make the club competitive, simple geography and demographics would favor the locale of the Strikers over anything Beckham might do in Miami. Simply put, with the Strikers sale, Beckham is further boxed-in both to Miami-Dade County and perhaps to a bloody fight with a well-established neighboring pro club who will not give an inch in a battle for fans. If Beckham does get his team off the ground though, this could produce one of the most authentic and glorious derby matches in North American soccer.