The time has come for MLS to pull the plug on the Miami debacle. The league, which has begun its 20th season in a strong position, now has the ability to pick and choose expansion markets. David Beckham’s commitment to Miami and to MLS is admirable, but the market is too fraught with risk at a time when other geographic locations represent an almost sure thing.
Florida is the third most populated state in the union and the launch of Orlando City SC in MLS, following the club’s successful minor league run, reinforces the potential of both the Florida market and bringing teams from the minor leagues up to the majors.
On that score, the decision to double-down and try and secure a solution in Miami is bewildering. This week, Minnesota United FC, a minor league club, announced they are in discussions with Major League Soccer to move to the top division in the near future. Minnesota has had a professional soccer team for more continuous seasons than any other American market (Minnesota United will begin the 26th consecutive season of pro soccer in the Twin Cities next month).
Miami, however, has no such infrastructure in place. Fort Lauderdale Strikers, the current local pro soccer club, has weak ownership and are sparsely supported. The club’s managing partner even mocked David Beckham in an October 3 Reditt conversation with fans. Ricardo Geromel said “If the underwear model is able to put a team together, it would be a pleasure to face them on the pitch.” Thus any thought of a Beckham-Strikers partnership is a moot point.
Sacramento has followed the Orlando model with a minor league team that was well supported and the engagement of local elected officials. The California capital city would be a worthy addition to MLS as it would provide a seventh Pacific coast team for the league, creating even more local rivalries.
On the subject of local rivalries, internet buzz has begun to circulate about the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the potential of the minor club who shares the name of one of the great professional clubs of a previous era in American soccer to move to MLS.
It is important to note while arguments can be made for Miami as an MLS franchise, the Tampa/St Petersburg TV market is actually larger than Miami/Fort Lauderdale. It is also critical to note that between 1975 and 2014, the Tampa Bay area and Miami/Fort Lauderdale areas have had pro teams in the same soccer leagues for 23 seasons. In that period only three times did the southeast Florida team boast higher attendance than the Tampa Bay-based one. This includes four seasons in Major League Soccer (1998-2001), where Tampa Bay led Miami in attendance three of the years, and nine seasons in the NASL (1975-1983) when Tampa Bay led Miami or Fort Lauderdale every single season.