The Fort Lauderdale Strikers winter of discontent has given way a spring of eternal hope. New Strikers Managing Partner Ricardo Geromel who seemed too young and naive for the job just six weeks ago suddenly looks like a dynamo whose management credentials are beyond question. What happened to turn the fortunes of the organization so quickly?
In the two short months since our “Sleepwalking Through Winter” series originally ran, Geromel and co-managing partner Madison Stanford have made some significant changes in how the club operates. While the Strikers have been labeled a professional team, I would have taken issue with the term “professional” in the past because of the way the club was staffed and the salaries players and coaches made. While the Strikers are still not fully professional by the definition I would employ, in March 2015 the club is closer to being a truly professional organization than anytime in its history. In addition, the front office has very quickly and quietly assembled a side that on the field should be capable of winning the NASL title (but titles are not won on paper!).
However, despite the progress, the organization still lags well behind MLS Orlando City SC, and NASL rivals Tampa Bay Rowdies and Jacksonville Armada FC in terms of marketing, professionalism and staffing. Still the Strikers are making major strides and closing the gap on those other Florida clubs – Some highlights below:
For the first time since 2011 the club has undertaken a massive marketing campaign. Strikers Managing Partner Ricardo Geromel and co-Managing Partner Madison Stanford unveiled an exciting and realistic campaign known as ” F.O.O.T.” – Florida’s Official Other Team. While the few dozens die hard adherents to the “Fort Lauderdale till I die” mantra of supporters group Flight 19 claim the Strikers as their favorite club, most local fans either have a favorite soccer club abroad (mine is Manchester City though that love affair has become the subject of much consternation among some in Orlando, due to the MCFC’s bankrolling of New York City FC, which is quickly becoming Orlando’s biggest MLS rival) or a sport they like better than soccer. The F.O.O.T. campaign is an exciting and smart campaign that in just two weeks has already grown the Strikers fan base and ticket sales.
Fortunately the Strikers will be facing the New York Cosmos on opening day (April 4), a great break provided by the league office. The Strikers two highest attended games since August 2013 were both against the Cosmos, who are the signature team of NASL. The Cosmos are an even bigger draw this season thanks to the signing of Real Madrid legend Raul who will be making his first competitive appearance on American soil in this match.
Upwards of 10,000 fans can be reasonably expected to attend the opening night match. Those numbers are unlikely to sustain themselves though an average of about 6,000-7,000 fans a game is a realistic expectation. The club has also taken advantage of its Brazilian ownership to create deep ties in the local Brazilian community. These ties should serve as a base anchor for a fan base that before the new ownership takeover was constantly in flux and could be argued did not really exist.
The club has hired a new C.E.O. , a Fort Lauderdale native Sean C. Guerin will help lead the organization forward. The Strikers will hold a food truck rally for every home game this season, giving fans more dining options. In addition, over $100,000 in improvements have been made to Lockhart Stadium to enhance the gameday experience.
The Strikers have signed a deal with Nike which will give the club without question its best apparel line and uniforms in club history. The team which has been assembled to wear the Nike kits is a marked improvement (at least on paper) over last season and should seriously contend for the NASL title. Fort Lauderdale will boast the league’s deepest midfield, on the NASL’s best strike forces and two very good goalkeepers for the 2015 season. The only question mark revolves around the backline which quite honestly might be suspect. For those looking for a prediction, check out World Soccer Talk’s NASL preview which will be published later this week.
One down side to the Strikers offseason has been the continued malaise of the supporters group Flight 19. The organization has grown far slower than its counterparts in the Tampa Bay area and Orlando since 2011, and as the Strikers crowds surely grow in 2015, many within the club must be concerned that a supporters section made up of only 25 to 35 fans gives the wrong optics. The hope is that Flight 19 can take advantage of the team’s upsurge to grow its numbers to a respectable level even if rivaling Tampa Bay or Orlando’s massive and intense supporters culture is unrealistic.
Here at TFS we would like to think our series gave the Strikers the impetus they needed to make the positive changes that have come. But the reality is that Geromel is a savvy operator and despite appearing over his head initially, he has settled into the job and made the right decisions. As the Strikers gain new fans and sponsors, the winter of discontent may not be forgotten but will probably seen as something that needed to be endured to get to the point where the club could be rebuilt in an efficient and professional manner.