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!

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.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Pyramid

As I am attempting to keep this blog fresh I have to make sure that I am honest and up front with everything that I am doing. Remember, I am posting all this in an effort to have professional soccer back in town. As I have been thinking about this there are obviously many things to consider. We could literally sit at a bar and talk about this for 12 days straight. I just don’t want to go there. For starters, I don’t drink, so being at a bar would be out of place. I mainly don’t drink due to the epilepsy, but we can discuss that at another time.

How do we get pro soccer back? One thing for sure is we have to stop waiting around to see what other people will do. Will David Beckham finalize the stadium plans? Will Paris St. Germain buy the Fort Lauderdale Strikers? Why are we sitting on our hands? We the people of South Florida need to rise up.

We also need to question everything. For professional soccer to exist what do we need? There have been debates upon debates on this subject. We know now that it can exist and the conversation has now turned to what version of pro soccer should exist. Is the MLS model worth it? Should we adopt the open (pro/rel) pyramid seen around the world? How should clubs be structured? Who should be responsible for funding youth academies?

I don’t have answers to these questions. But here in the United States, we have a lot of different things going on at once. I’m not sure it’s like that any where else. And, who is to say that what we have is not poised for success, whatever success may be. And isn’t that the real question? Why are we so passionate? Why are we so concerned?

I’m not here to point fingers and say what is the best way for soccer to be organized in the United States. But we all know that just having a team is not enough to be sustainable. We had the Fort Lauderdale Strikers (generation 3). Last year they averaged 1,361 people per game. That’s bad. Why didn’t anyone go? Were there better soccer teams in our area. Was it just because the league wasn’t at the level? Who here can tell me why we can’t get 10,000 people to come to a handful of soccer games. It was only 15 games!

Are we becoming too saturated? Look at the US Soccer pyramid. MLS>NASL>USL>NPSL>PDL. In South Florida alone we have 10 or so teams amongst those leagues. Is it because they aren’t MLS teams no one goes? When Beckham United materializes, will it draw?

I will watch any soccer game, and although the Strikers weren’t wizards on the field, I still went (just not as often as I should have). That changes now. I’m going to see Boca Raton FC in the NPSL. I’m going to PDL games between the Palm Beach Suns and Floridians FC. Are we so caught up in quality that it stops us from attending? I do have a theory about why the Stikers drew so little this past year. It’s not as simple as pointing a finger at management and saying that they screwed up. That doesn’t work. My first job out of college was at Disney World. On my first day, at lunch, I heard a 15-year employee complain about something management could do better. At that moment I realized that complainers don’t get anywhere. The stay in the same place forever. I never complained at Disney. A few months later I was that employee’s supervisor.

But back to kicking balls. And, I know that I am ranting. We need to take ownership. I mean that it every sense of the word. There has to be tens of thousands of people in our area who would love to see a professional team. Bring their kids to the game. Bring a date maybe. We don’t go because we don’t want to own up to the failures. But that is what our sport is all about. Do you think Newcastle United fans stopped showing up because their owner sold a player or because they got relegated? Instead, they just get louder and stronger until changes are made and the team gets better. We need that here big time. I envision a hoard of Striker Likers who are vocal, who have ownership and can influence change. I see Striker Likers who like to beat drums and Striker Likers who will just watch. Am I so out of place?

Back to the pyramid for a quick second. Remember what I said back there. We have 10 or so semi-pro teams in our area. You want an investor to buy an MLS team down here? Then don’t just show up for the Barcelona vs. Chivas friendly. Show up to the South Florida Surf vs. FC Miami City PDL game. Show up to the Boca Raton FC vs. Miami Fusion FC US Open Cup match.

Here is a current list of clubs you should look in to:

Boca Raton FC
Miami Fusion FC
FC Miami City
Floridians FC
South Florida Surf
Palm Beach Suns
Beaches FC
Miami FC
Miami United FC

Don’t be a stranger to soccer.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Enough is Enough

My first post to this blog was back in November of 2007. The last time I posted was June of 2011. I’ve been slacking.

At that time I was enjoying the fact that Miami FC had rebranded as the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and after so long I could go to Lockhart, like I did when I was 9-years old, and watch my favorite team play. I did nothing to make that happen. And now, as the team is on the verge of possibly collapsing into oblivion, I come back to this blog with renewed purpose.

I’ve had two children since I last posted and perhaps that is why I am so angry at myself. Why am I not involved? Just last year the founder of Foursquare created a team for the NPSL solely on the premise of “if you don’t see something you like, make it yourself.” It was a rather profound discovery and I recommend you follow the Kingston Stockade journey because it is nothing but pleasurable.

I come from a soccer-crazed family, but I don’t live a soccer-crazed life. In fact I’m far removed from it. Why that is I do not know, but I want it to change. And it starts here. I will have goals. I will state dreams. I will chart my successes and failures and hopefully have your support and help along the way.

Goal Number 1: A Pro Soccer Team.

To make things clear I want a professional soccer team in my backyard. In my hometown. For me that area stretches as far north as Jupiter and as far south as Hollywood. Miami is just too far removed. And as much as the international allure of Miami is, it is not South Florida. Also, when MLS had a team named Miami, they played in Fort Lauderdale. Just saying.

So what can I do to have a pro soccer team here? There are flashes of course and later on this blog I will reminisce about failed ventures such as the Boca Raton Sabres, Coral Springs Kicks, and Fort Lauderdale Sun.

If it were up to me, and for this blog, since it is only me at the moment, my focus will be to devise a plan on how a team called the Fort Lauderdale Strikers can play professional soccer again.

If you stop reading here fine. I’ve made my point. From here on I will go into detail about why the Strikers. As I said before I grew up here, and my only physical contact with pro soccer was the Strikers of the late 80s and early 90s. I went to their games, I was a ball kid, I went to the Thomas Rongen Soccer Academy (run of course by Striker players) and when I got to play at Lockhart (which I had a few occasions - middle school county championship, high school all-star game, scrimmage against the Fusion), I felt jitters.

I also said I was soccer-crazed. When I meet people today and they ask me who is your favorite team, I warn them that they are in for a long conversation. For when you don’t have a stable league and teams come and go and the best quality stuff comes overseas its hard to gather. I haven’t been able to follow a singular MLS team since its inception. At first I flocked towards the teams that were adidas sponsored (Columbus, KC and DC) but now the whole league is adidas so I can’t follow that formula. Abroad I have teams in every country because as an American you never know where one will end up. My parents are from Argentina, so if a team had an American or an Argentinean, I liked them. Again, that formula lasted only so long so over time I’ve made allegiances. In England, I like Tottenham. In France, Marseille. In Italy, Fiorentina. In Japan, Yokohama F. Marinos. In Argentina, Racing Club (my Dad’s team). I will go in depth on this subject in a future blog for sure. But if you like those teams, let’s talk.

Anyway, the Strikers will always be my home. And one day they will return to the playing field in a professional capacity.

I want to shift gears a bit and talk about myself. I think it is important that you know who I am. I wrote this blog behind a veil of secrecy for no reason what so ever. So here it goes. My name is Diego Meeroff. I was born in Oklahoma City in 1980 and moved to Charleston, SC and Nashville, TN before my family settled in Coral Springs and then Parkland where they are today. My parents are from Argentina and we were raised that soccer was the only sport worth participating in. If you know the Meeroff family I’m pretty sure it is not because that my father is a crack gastroenterologist. It’s because my dad is a soccer nut. If you take anything away from your experience with him, I hope that it becomes obvious that he is passionate about this sport and passionate about it succeeding in this country. He might have insulted you at some point or probably given you a red card. That’s just my dad.

Me however, I just wanted to play. I started playing in recreational leagues in Nashville and Coral Springs, but when I turned 6 I tried out and made the U-9 team for USA (United Soccer Association) in Sunrise. They folded and I joined the Plantation Eagles. When my parents moved to Parkland the Plantation commute became to much and I started playing for Team Boca in Boca Raton. After a few years, and by now I was 15. Few teams remained in this area. Basically in my age group there was one team from Miami and one team from Coral Springs. My dad, the passionate figure that he is, had fundamental differences with the Coral Springs administration. So my family started their own club, Lauderdale Soccer Club. We were rag tag, but in our 3 years of existence we made the State Cup final twice (losing to Miami Strike Force both times).

The second final we lost was on the day of my high school graduation. I scored our team’s only goal in the 2-1 loss and I had to suffer the drive home from Cocoa Beach to walk the stage and receive my diploma. A very weird day for me for sure. I played high school soccer at Stoneman Douglas. It was pretty uneventful aside from our district championship game where we scored 3 goals in the last 7 minutes to beat Coral Springs 3-2. I went on to FAU to play soccer. The summer before my freshman year I was diagnosed with epilepsy. And a year later I wrecked my knee playing in a State Cup game.

At that point I threw my dream of playing pro soccer out the window and found a new love in music. I learned to play guitar, found some other crazy kids and started an indie band. It was such a great experience and opened me up to a whole new world. I still followed the game, but I was not so immersed. The years since have really been a blur. My professional career in marketing actually began at Walt Disney World. After one year with the mouse, I came home and worked at an ad agency, a real estate office and a travel agency. I’m now the Director of Marketing for Florida Atlantic University. I’m very passionate about FAU and we’ve come along way, and we will go a lot further.

I also got married, and I have 2 beautiful children. My 5-year has yet to touch a soccer field. I’ve made attempts, including building a mini field in our backyard for him. I’m not pushing him. At least not until he’s 7.

So that’s me in a nutshell. I’m going to commit to this blog. Once a week, just say want I need to say. I will also reach out to our soccer community. We may be dysfunctional but we are all passionate. We just need to combine that passion and bring a team back to the fold.