Tuesday, May 9, 2017

We're Not Gonna Take It


Still waiting to hear about the future of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, just like we’re waiting to hear about Miami Beckham United (recent news reports seem to indicate there actually maybe news). In any case, Miami FC remains the only professional outfit in all of South Florida, but let that not be a harbinger for doom. In fact, the opposite is true. The true dirty south has begun to rise, in several ways.





THE US OPEN CUP

The cup begins this week and we have representation! Red Force FC, Miami United FC, Boca Raton FC and the South Florida Surf will be playing their hand in the cup. They, of course, play each other in the first round, meaning at least two will be in the second round. It’s good to know we have this strong a contingent of amateur sides.




U-17 WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS

The good old U, S of A qualified, finished second in the tournament and had a few young-ins from around here. Weston FC and Kendall SC each had an impact player on the squad.




THE TAILGATE SHOW

Yes, we Striker fans have a podcast. And it’s awesome! This South Florida-centric show really pulls at my heart strings. The show’s crew - Chris, Paul and Justin really know their stuff and can put on an entertaining 2 hours each week. Guests include soccer writers, soccer players, soccer movers and shakers. Hopefully I’ll get a guest spot in the “kudio” one day.




HIMMARSHEE FC

Flight 19, the Strikers supporter’s group did what they had to do while the Strikers went away - they started their own club! A community-owned club will be bringing a fresh look to amateur scene, and also supporters to amateur games.

So that’s just a peppering of what we got going on down here. As for me, well, I’ve got some things in the works as well. Too early to brag about now, but just like my neighbors, I’m not sitting idle while Lockhart Stadium becomes a weed garden.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Name Game



I am a positive person. I believe in a world where the Fort Lauderdale Strikers will live again. I believe South Florida can support an MLS team, maybe two. I believe. I believe that. I believe that we. I believe that we will see the Strikers again!

But there are a few things that drive me crazy. One of those things are soccer camps. At not just any soccer camp, it's those club branded soccer camps. I'm talking to you Barcelona and PSG. I won't go into the rant that soccer camps are just money makers and have no positive affect on soccer in our communities. 

If we're going to have soccer camps they have to have ties to local soccer.

I grew up with two soccer camps, both devices of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. I was blessed with the Thomas Rongen Soccer Camp and the Nene Cubillas Camp Futbol. Both camps run by Strikers. Today our children are being drawn by these big clubs, Barcelona and PSG. But that's not all. I was picking up my son from school and in the office I saw a flyer for a Colo Colo soccer camp. Are you kidding me?

What's next? Pachuca? Manchester United? Is that what we're coming to? Do we need to brand our soccer with these clubs to provide validity?

If we believe that we are a soccer community, a soccer producing community, then drop these brands and have pride in yourself. We are doing ourselves a disservice. It's part of why we get the ICC games, international friendlies, but very little professional soccer. 

The casual soccer fan here. The fan that we need to cater to has all of these brands coming to town diluting our own local product. Stop the branded camps. We need more local action. We need to create our own brands. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Who's to Blame for the MLS Void in South Florida?


The first guest post to Strikers Likers comes from my dad. Dr. Jose Meeroff. Associate Prof of Medicine University of Miami and Florida Atlantic University. ATFA (FIFA) “A” pro soccer coach. NSCAA Premier Diploma Soccer Coach and Emeritus life time USSF and NISOA Referee.
My dad, myself, my son and my nephew drove up to Orlando last week to catch an MLS game. The entire drive home we tried to convince ourselves not to move to Orlando where apparently they figured out how to have MLS, and amazing stadium, and an amazing atmosphere. 

So moved be the experience, my dad wrote this. Enjoy.

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WHO IS GUILTY THAT WE DON’T HAVE A MLS TEAM IN SOUTH FLORIDA?

To me the answer to the title question is quite simple: we all are guilty by reasons of abandonment, incapacity, ignorance and egotism.

I will center my opinion in the following concepts. First, look at the makeup of our nomad South Florida communities. The great majority of us were born somewhere else in the world and came here to make fortune the easy way. We are a community of foreign people with no interest in the history and/or the tradition of the area we live in. Very few South Florida residents have any idea of the origins of Broward or Dade county, nor do they know the significance of those names. According to most New Yorkers (some days I tend to believe that South Florida is just a “South New York” borough) people come to Florida to die, to escape from justice, to make easy money to be later sent to “their countries” or to have sex.  

In South Florida, there is very little support or loyalty to any institution, in education, art, or sports. South Florida, for most of those that are now permanent residents, is still a transient place just for entertainment, leisure and promiscuity. Those negative beliefs can immediately be incorporated into local soccer. Most soccer people in our area strongly believe that here it is impossible to seed the passion for the game. They stalwartly dispute that: 1. Soccer is much better in their home land; 2. The game is not suited for the “American mentality”, whatever that means; 3. Their kids ought to go and play soccer in their home country; 4. American natives are not capable of running the sport and/or the business of soccer; 5. There is no need to support the US National soccer teams, the local top pro/semipro squads or even collegiate teams and 6. The quality of American Pro soccer is inferior to the weakest one in the world.

I strongly argue that all these concepts are intellectual aberrations pungently contributing to South Florida’s difficulty to integrate into the prospering scene of the top level of soccer in the US. We are well aware that US professional soccer leagues are not perfect and need improvement. But which league around the globe is perfect: the corrupt Italian Calcio Serie A or the disable Argentine Premier AFA league? 

Nevertheless, the US first division pro league, Major League Soccer (MLS) is blooming exponentially and its level of play can be easily compared to the one of any of the so called “first soccer world” pro leagues. The MLS has currently 22 teams playing, 19 in continental US and 3 in Canada. The MLS plans to expand to 28 or more teams, with probably different divisions. Most of the current teams own modern soccer specific stadiums, are structured logically and have an established large local fan base. 

Last weekend my son, Diego, and I attended the match played in Orlando between the Orlando City SC and the Los Angeles Galaxy. That was a treat. Orlando has a new, spectacular soccer specific stadium built in downtown Orlando (with the managerial and financial support from the local government and business). The game was played on a Saturday afternoon, the stadium was packed with 25,000 spectators most of them wearing the colors of the home team. The atmosphere was incredible and much safer than the one you encounter when attending a match in South America or even in parts of Europe. The game was excellent and ended in a 2-1 victory by Orlando City with a goal scored in extra time (minute 91) on a great set play. We were fortunate to watch impressive American players such as Jonathan Spector and Joe Bendix from the home team and Jermaine Jones from the visitors (a German born player from American parents who is a regular to the US Men National team since 2010). The Orlando City SC organization is a broad one: they have not only an MLS team but also other pro teams including a USL team (Orlando City B), women’s pro team (Orlando Pride) and a very sophisticated youth based structure (Orlando City Development Academy), all under one roof.
For us, the only negative aspects of the weekend experience were driving to Orlando, spending a night at an overpriced Hotel and trying to find good, modestly priced restaurants where to eat. Otherwise it was a great event. My grandchildren Nico and Hudson loved the game and the spectacle.

In the meantime what are we doing here in South Florida for the good of soccer? We continue importing “soccer academies” of insignificant value, increasing the number of “clubs” playing “traveling” soccer (a misnomer for expensive recreational soccer), not communicating among each other and waiting for the Messiah to arrive and fix all our deficiencies. Unfortunately, in my modest opinion, we have too many messiah potential candidates who are not only not qualified as such, but also not honest and not pledged to the progress of soccer in the Gold Coast. Furthermore, the real soccer experts and committed South Floridians soccer devoted are very seldom called to participate in any progressive project including the ill-advisedly Beckham one. Regrettably we continue living in the dark ages and with almost no light at the end of the tunnel.

Definitively, I don’t want to live in a depressive mood. I don’t want to be forced to wait for someone to build a spaceship that can take me to Mars, Jupiter or to other galaxies where I can start developing and cultivating good soccer. In the meantime, I will continue going to Orlando when I can, coaching the Academy Premier team, organizing and delivering coaching educational activities and teaching the little I know about soccer to all my grandchildren Nico, Hudson, Luca, Harley and Dylan.

Nevertheless, I also demand that local people wake up, start accepting responsibility and act. I won’t remain passive; if it requires to fight a war, I will fight. And for the rest, I remind them what was said at the JFK inaugural presidential address “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. We, as a society of settlers, have the obligation to build up the next level of soccer in South Florida, now !!!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Who Is It Good For?


So I haven’t found too much in the past week to lift my spirits about a year passing by without the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

We had the MLS opening weekend however and I tried to watch as much as I could possibly watch. I had other obligations - Tae Kwan Do practice, summer camp tours, Chinese Lantern Festival. It’s the joys of parenthood. Luckily I was able to finish the weekend playing soccer with my 5-year old son and 6-year old nephew.

Back to MLS, it was an awesome weekend. It would have been even better if we had a game down here for sure, but for now, it’s a pleasure watching this game take shape in the US. Seeing it covered as much as it is. It gave me that warm and fuzzy feeling you know. That feeling, however, was quickly diminished when I heard sports talk radio trying to come to grips with Barcelona defeating PSG in Champions League.

So for a brief moment I wasn’t lamenting the loss of the Strikers, I was instead embarrassed and extremely angered that sports media still acts ignorant to our sport and laughs at how little they know. I scanned 4 separate sport talks shows right after the game. Each of them made mention of the result. Then each of them got confused on how aggregate scoring works. Then each of them laughed at how little they know about it.

Is that where we are right now? Do we still need to explain why regular season games end in a tie? Do we to explain what the Champions League is every year? It’s a insult. I wanted to live in this moment where the game completely restored my faith. I wanted this moment to be enjoyed. Instead, radio hosts were baffled at all the twitter noise and then stumbled over the scoresheet. No excuses sports media.

So that’s out of the way. Now back to Strikers talk. Not much to report really. And that’s it.

But I’m not going to stop there. So the next thing is google. I’m a big believer in building stadiums. Lockhart needs to refresh. OKC Energy has done something similar with their building, Taft Stadium. Check it out, it’s nice. A lot of teams, also, are dressing up their rented facilities, which is nice. But having your own space is special. The MLS model has afforded this. Not many team below that threshold can say they same.

But Lockhart was going to be rebuilt remember? Schlitterbahn, a water park was going to put a park in that area and have a lazy river run through Lockhart. They were going to upgrade the stadium and put in 4 more soccer fields. Initially the plan stalled because the city had to but the land from the airport and a hefty price. But guess what? They did it, they bought it. Plans were made and Schlitterbahn was about to become a reality. So why hasn’t it been done? Rapids Water Park. A water park in Palm Beach County has brought the City of Fort Lauderdale to court for not allowing competing bids for the space.



For that reason the rebuild is at a halt. It’s truly unbelievable. But that is the real reason that South Florida gets a bad rap. It’s not the players, it’s not the teams, it’s not the fans. It’s the greed. Look at Beckham’s deal. He’s on his third stadium location because of local business greed. First it was the cruise lines, then it was the Marlins. Everyone wants to benefit monetarily so it makes it hard to move the mountain.

A new question arises now. Since the Strikers are incognito, does the stadium plan fall to pieces? How is this resolved? So many questions. So little answers. Everyone says they’re committed, but no one wants to work each other. Every one out for themselves. Good for their business bad for soccer in South Florida.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

What's Missing


On a day where the St. Pete City Council confirms the date for a special election including the re-imagining of Al Lang Stadium, those of us in South Florida continue to wallow in our own self doubt, pity ourselves and look up to the heavens for something.

Now, that something isn’t David Beckham like we all believed it would be three years ago. As a Strikers fan, we are on the verge of something that is quite interesting (if not disturbing).

Imagine a scenario if you will that in 5 years time the MLS has three Florida-based teams. Taking into account today’s environment, those three teams would be Orlando City SC, Miami Beckham United and the, ugh, Tampa Bay Rowdies. Am I supposed to be happy or pissed off? The growth of the game of soccer in the US is definitely important to me. I was picked on so much for being the soccer kid in school and now we have soccer-specific stadiums. The expense has been the Fort Lauderdale Strikers which takes me into a talking point.

What is the point of MLS? At its inception, FIFA mandated that US Soccer have a professional league in order to be awarded hosting rights to the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Our founding fathers at the time knew what happened to the NASL and made the decision to create the MLS in the image of American sports leagues. With franchises instead of clubs, the MLS was born. You can’t blame them. The passing of NASL 1.0 was epic. Everything and anything had to be done to avoid a similar calamity. American sports leagues are very stable and so to follow that lead makes business sense.

But soccer has that little something different that no other sport has. It provides opportunity. To me the World Cup is the greatest thing ever because every country is included. Albeit most countries don’t have any shot of winning, they do have an opportunity to make it and play those “world-class” countries. Kuwait in 82, USA in 90, Saudi Arabia in 94 and so on and so on.

Soccer leagues around the world have that same inclusion, just to a different degree. Though slim, a 4th division side in England can theoretically play in the Premier League. That is what the seasoned soccer fan is accustomed to, that is part of the game. The MLS is completely void of that excitement. Actually, and disagree with me, it seems that more excitement is generated in groups trying to make the MLS, than the actual MLS games themselves. Why? Because its the only time we “the little guy” or “outsider” can make it to the big leagues.


It took Philadelphia 7 hard years to push and push to get into the MLS and get a stadium. It was a remarkable story that included a supporter’s group and ownership that fought every obstacle and made it happen. Since they’ve been in the MLS, can you name 3 players who’ve played for the Union?

There is no drama in the MLS, but it is our first division. I honestly find more joy in watching MLS teams compete in Champions League play because that is where that drama exists. Imagine if an MLS team wins the CL? They get to go to the Club World Cup, and play Real Madrid or Barcelona in a competitive match. Wouldn’t that be something?

The MLS is great for so many things. It has increased the level of play of the American footballer. It has made better US coaches. It has forced soccer into mainstream media. These are all things we can thank the MLS for. Plus we have soccer-specific stadiums. So I’m not bashing here, just working my way to something else. The MLS has done all this, but it came at a price and that price was the theater.

I’ll take one stab at a fix for this. MLS should expand to 40 teams and have 2 divisions with pro/rel between them. Then the last place team in Division 2 needs to play in a playoff against the champion of whatever league is deemed beneath it. If it were right now, you would have a NASL-USL playoff winner play against the last place team in D2 MLS. Winner makes it in. I think that will add some excitement, put some fire into these games and freak fans and owners out enough to make the games more interesting. And for the business owners afraid of seeing their $150 million wasted to play in the USL, well, that is the sport, it’s part of the game.


Last point I want to make about MLS here is really more of a statement about MLS Miami. So their PR firm came out and said they are committed to building a world-class club. I mean, come on! An MLS team, by definition, is not world-class. I think MLS fans know that. People in South Florida know that for sure and we can smell bullshit pretty darn well. Should I keep going? You know I’m a little bit of a Miami hater right now, but even the Miami supporters groups are getting antsy, so that cannot be a good sign.

So how does this affect a future Fort Lauderdale Strikers outfit? I don't think it does because we don't even have a team on the field. Without Pro/Rel it is very hard to imagine a strong ownership group investing enough to keep the Strikers alive. And knowing our market, if you're not providing a top-quality experience, you are not going to have attendance. Man, I'm getting very depressed right now. At least I have the USMNT. March 24 can't come any sooner.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What Do We Really Want?



There are numerous factors to take into consideration in order to run a professional sports team (or franchise, etc.). For most of us, we will never know what those things are. For the ones closer to the action, it may became more clear. At the end of the day however the business of sports is at complete odds with what makes sports so fun to watch and enjoy.

The environment we live in now is one of hard business dealings and a soccer economy that still hasn’t realized what it can be or who it should be. I think we tend to get too far from reality sometimes because most of us really love this game and understand every nuance. I actually believe there are more people like this than American sports media or even sport business owners realize.

Professional soccer in America is crazy. It’s the wild wild west every day. We are still in pioneering times and I wonder why that is. The US was introduced to pro soccer in the 1970s. We hosted a World Cup in 1994 and in 2017 we have a 22-team (and expanding) league in the MLS. So why do I still have to explain to people how the Champions League works? Why is it a conversation I have to have to defend international friendlies. Why are we still explaining the game of soccer? I don’t have an answer really but I do believe it is holding us back.

We are so caught up in trying to sell this notion that soccer teams in America can be world famous when we forget why we have teams at all. What is the purpose for having a pro-team? Do we ever really think this through? It’s basically the same question as why do we have TV shows? Pure entertainment. We know for a fact that the game of soccer is the most watched sport on the planet, yet here in South Florida we can’t keep a team afloat for more than a decade at a time, if we’re lucky.

The reasons are endless and the proof is in the pudding. But let’s look ahead. We don’t have a choice really because not much exists.

#1. Quality



 We watch things that are entertaining because of the high quality. The WWE is high quality in production value and execution and it does amazingly well. Soccer in America is getting there? The level of play in the MLS I would argue is “acceptable”. If an MLS side could win the CONCACAF Champions League that would be something. What MLS also considers is the theater. Soccer specific stadiums (SSS) really add to the experience and they add to the quality. Lockhart Stadium, once the blueprint for SSS, is now a relic. Without a proper congregation location, this game doesn’t work. MLS is right it not pushing start with Beckham for this reason.

I can go further. No soccer games in baseball stadiums. No soccer games at high schools or college stadiums. The stadium is as much part of the team as the players and the fans.

Now if we say that the MLS is the highest quality pro soccer here then you can argue we need to set sights on that. But there are issues there. Not anyone can be in the MLS. Your media market among other things dictate your entrance. Look at The Rochester Rhinos. Probably one of the most stable professional clubs in US history will never be in the MLS. They can win the USL year after year, sell out their SSS and never go anywhere. That sucks. But that is our reality at this moment.

Does the pro/rel argument come into play because of this? If clubs like Rochester exist what is their long term strategy? Is playing in the USL the endgame?

Imagine if the Strikers had that sustainability. Imagine if the team had stayed put after the original NASL fold instead of moving to Minnesota. Image if the early 90s team kept playing through all the leagues that came and went (remember the USISL?). What would the team have looked like? Would the Fusion have played at Lockhart if the Strikers were still in existence? If the Strikers had lasted that long, one would argue, attendance would have had to been stupendous. Would MLS be knocking on the door? Would a Fort Lauderdale team with history and fan base be a viable option for the MLS? This takes me to my next point.

#2. Good for Business



Who ever owns the team needs to make money right? You can only lose money on an investment for so long. How that revenue is won is important. Would the Strikers be a springboard club and make money off of player transfers? Are enough local businesses comfortable with marketing to the fan base? At what level does the team have to be to garner any broadcast revenue? Do the Strikers need a pay-to-play youth outfit to add to this revenue stream?

To be sustainable, we need to keep our eye out on this one. We need to align with strong local companies who are as much a fabric of our community as we believe the Strikers can be. They are hundreds of locally-bred companies here that should be a part of this. Have they been contacted? Ever approached?

The business end of all this is what most of us tend to avoid. We care mostly about what happens on the field. So what is good for business in South Florida and Fort Lauderdale in particular? Now remember that at this point a Fort Lauderdale Strikers team has no real stadium. A huge disadvantage. Miami FC has FIU Stadium and maybe one day Boca Raton FC plays out of FAU Stadium. The opportunity there is that a SSS for the Strikers would be solely for soccer purposes, not a collegiate-share venue. That is good for business. You want to own your home, not rent it. Unless there is a pool, pool maintenance is bitch!

It truly is a vicious cycle. You need attendance to drive ticket sales. You need a good team to drive attendance. You need to build hope to get people interested. Do you think Orlando City would have happened without the lure of MLS? Is that carrot available in the FTL? I don’t really know.

The other side is navigating the mine field that is the youth soccer structure.

#3 The Youths

High School and Collegiate soccer aside, we are littered with youth clubs. These organizations don’t need the Strikers for anything. They have been built on their own, they finance themselves and they are extremely successful. The game of soccer is a competition and the business side is just the same. A youth club is better off hosting a weekend tournament then sending their players and families to an NASL Saturday night match. Theoretically, a professional soccer club has its own youth system. So the Strikers would be at odds with every youth club in existence today. Would we ask these clubs to fall under the Strikers umbrella? Are there other options? This is a subject that seems easy on paper until you get down to work it out. And that has been the argument. We have tons of youth soccer players. They would go to a pro soccer game right? Wrong. They play on their team. They travel with their team. They pay dues to their team.

What I am trying to get to is a working hypothesis. I want there to be a Fort Lauderdale Strikers. And I know there a lot of us out there who want the same. Unlike any country in the world, we have to choose what league we play in. There is no pyramid, so this decision is vital. We also need to be responsible in our dreams. Do we realistically see ourselves playing in the MLS? Is the USL/NASL environment the right place?

What happens in Miami and Boca and West Palm and Jupiter may or may not happen. It should not deter efforts in the FTL at all.

What do you think? What can the Strikers be? Who should they be? Let’s draw out our vision of the future. It will get us one step closer to making it happen.

Monday, February 13, 2017

New Jerseys! Yeah!

https://www.vintagefootballshirts.com/

I’m feeling nostalgic today. Wait. I’m a Strikers fan, I feel nostalgic a lot. But seriously, I just caught a danish film about the Euro 1992 miracle and whenever you start talking Denmark you automatically start thinking to yourself about how amazing their World Cup 1986 jerseys were.

I mean am I right?

Never before did we see pink used with so much tenacity. It was stunning, and the team was fantastic too. But I don’t want to get too far down that rabbit hole. I want to keep things in focus. I want to see pro soccer in Fort Lauderdale again. So here are my ramblings for the day, week or whatever.

Uniforms, Kits and Jerseys

Is there no greater garment invented in the history of mankind than a soccer jersey (or kit or uniform or whatever). At times they can be regal and at times that can be infuriating. But we can all agree that we are suckers for the new kit release (and websites dedicated to it). Just look at the media hype right now just weeks before the MLS kicks off. No one is talking about roster changes or playoff pictures or odds of winning the MLS Cup. No, everyone is talking about jerseys.

Has our soccer culture evolved to a point where we get excited more about the dressing than the substance? Now I’m not saying we should abolish 3rd kits and not do this every year, but we need some moderation. It is surprising to note that the money machine of soccer jerseys has barely scratched the service of NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL teams. It probably is due to the fact people in the old days thought that anything influenced by soccer must be a disease.

They are slowly coming around. The NBA will have sponsors on uniforms come next year with a tiny patch above the left pectoral. This has caused outrage. For the owners, however, just another revenue stream.

And isn’t that novel, ownership concerned about revenue. I say that because revenue is a key factor in sustainability. And isn’t that, as Strikers fans, what we are looking for. Aren’t we in need of something that will last long enough to hand down to our children. It is, if you really think about, an act no less a miracle that the Strikers have been created several times, separately. Another post topic for another day I presume: How the Strikers keep coming back.

I want to stick to want can make the next Strikers chapter sustainable. I’m not involved in the actual process yet (I think I need to join Flight 19 first) but here are my thoughts.

The Stadium


Gotta have it. Soccer is a religious experience, it needs a place for supporters to congregate and watch the beautiful game in person. It needs to be a point of pride. It needs to have history and be cutting edge. It needs to be Lockhart Stadium. Let me rephrase that: it needs to be an updated, state-of-the-art, place I want to live Lockhart Stadium. No need to build a new one, no need to find another location. The location is perfect, it has the history, it just needs to be torn down and rebuilt (figuratively of course).

From press clippings it seemed that this initiative began but never got too far. The water park idea I think is still on the table, but we have to have a shiny new Lockhart to make the Strikers stay for good. And we need more than renderings, because US Soccer fans like only one thing more than new jerseys, and that’s stadium renderings. You know, sometimes I feel that the MLS teams don’t actually exist and we are living out some fantasy idea of cool jerseys and soccer specific arenas in our head.

On the topic of stadiums, my last point. Never put a soccer game in a baseball stadium. I have nothing against baseball even though it was their faithful who trashed soccer the most back in the day. Their stadiums just can’t give you the right soccer experience (sorry NY Cosmos, have a good season). Also, as much as Central Broward Regional Park is a beautiful facility, can’t play soccer there. It’s just weird.

If we were to take stock of what we have that I would deem capable of hosting soccer you’ve got Hard Rock Stadium, FIU and FAU. None of those fit the geographic specimen to be the Strikers’ home. So Lockhart it must be. And wouldn’t it be great if it was all spiced up and fancy? [Feel free to link your own stadium renderings if you’ve got them]

I guess I will stop here for now, seems like the post is going a little long.

Until next time, start thinking how we can guarantee 10,000 people for 15 games. To be sustainable, we need people to show up.