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.
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.