David Beckham’s lofty ambitions to build an MLS superclub in Miami have gone virtually nowhere over the past 14 months, but up I-95 about 25 miles, the NASL’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers are teaching Beckham thing or two about marketing.
The Strikers, who began their first season under new ownership on Saturday, set a club record attendance with 11,691 fans at Lockhart Stadium who witnessed a 1-0 loss to the New York Cosmos. So massive was this number that it broke the previous club record by almost 4,000 fans and exceeded the opening match totals for the Miami Fusion in their final two seasons in MLS.
Strikers Managing Partner Ricardo Geromel stated after the match,“Everything about the night was fantastic except the final score. Nevertheless, it was great to see a packed house and all of the stadium enhancements. It was an excellent way to start a new era in Strikers’ history. We hope to see all of the fans again this Saturday and all summer long at Lockhart Stadium.”
Some of the fans who turned up to their first Strikers match on Saturday had come to see Real Madrid legend Raul play his first competitive game on American soil. The talismanic forward was injured before halftime after playing at virtually half speed and was replaced for the second half. But the majority of new fans came to see their local club.
While many of the marketing efforts of the team’s new Brazilian ownership has been based around the ethnic Brazilian community in Palm Beach and Broward counties, the payoff has been massive. When ethnic fans or those who support English clubs are attracted to domestic soccer games particularly at the lower division level, you often see a plethora of foreign club and national team jerseys dominating the crowd.
But on Saturday, the Lockhart crowd was largely dominated by new fans wearing Strikers merchandise or the club’s colors. It was an impressive sight particularly for those who know how difficult it is to penetrate the South Florida soccer market.
How exactly did the Strikers do it and what can Beckham learn from the NASL club?
1. Targeted communications to audiences most likely to support local soccer including Brazilians and those who watch European matches on weekend mornings.
2. The signing of several players with local ties both at the youth and professional levels.
3. Initiating a marketing campaign that acknowledged that most fans call a team in another soccer league or another sport their favorite team. Understanding the marketplace and executing a strategy based on its peculiar realities.
4. The signing of Léo Moura, who captained Flamengo from 2010 to 2015, showed the seriousness of the organization to attract new fans.
5. Despite the state of Lockhart Stadium, which was last properly renovated when MLS’ Miami Fusion began play in 1998, the organization invested a six figure sum into making renovations. The key to these changes in the stadium was improving the matchday experience that has been quite frankly poor at Lockhart through the years and branding the facility properly so it appeared to be a home ground.
The basic grassroots building blocks to make a local club successful in south Florida requires discipline and heavy lifting. If Beckham’s dream team in Miami does ever get off the ground, he would be well-advised to take a closer look at Geromel’s setup with the Strikers and learn some of the important lessons for the market.
Photo courtesy of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
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