Ft Lauderdale Strikers update – Sponsorships, supporters, toxic atmosphere and staff changes

Time for us to check in on our friends with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers professional soccer club. The Strikers despite assembling a very impressive squad which is deeper and more talented than the one that reached last year’s NASL Soccer Bowl final, are sitting level on points at the bottom of the league table currently. Part of the reason is a toxic atmosphere that has spread through the club’s supporters and possibly the players also.

Controversial Director of Soccer Andre Chaves resigned on Sunday as did Head Coach Marcelo Neveleff who was subjected to an intense fan campaign by the supporters group Flight 19 urging his ouster. The Flight 19 campaign which included printing T-shirts of former Head Coach Günter Kronsteiner and chanting from the stands a desire to see a coaching change appears to have had an impact on Neveleff’s thinking and perhaps the morale of the team. The Flight 19 campaign was successful but stands in direct contrast to the attitude of Tampa Bay Rowdies supporters group Ralph’s Mob who continued to support the club Manager Ricky Hill publicly last season as the Rowdies slipped down the NASL table. This season in Orlando, the MLS club which has two major supporters groups had differing interpretations of the team’s early struggles – the Ruckus, the larger of the two groups cheered off OCSC players after every frustrating home match while the Iron Lion Firm (ILF) expressed publicly their displeasure with results. The Ruckus’ approach was appreciated by those around the team, but the ILF which has developed a reputation for creating trouble through the years were not deterred by the criticism. Orlando City is second attendance wise in MLS averaging over 36,000 fans a game and last week announced they will privately finance their new stadium.

However, Flight 19’s campaign which was well-executed seems to have been a first for a supporters group in this state in that it essentially created an untenable situation for a sitting Head Coach. The frustration many privately have had with Flight 19 is that the group isn’t typically well-organized ,hasn’t grown its section since 2011 (it should be noted I have taken some people’s private concerns and expressed these points publicly because I agree with them – For example three weekends ago in St Petersburg, Ralph’s Mob members goaded Flight 19 members several times singing “we cannot hear you over there,” and the Flight 19 response was to simply sit on their hands and later that match the Strikers fan section did not do much cheering or singing to try and spur the team they support onward to a game-tying goal when the team really could have used it.) and haven’t always been active during home games. I would counter the final argument by saying that the atmosphere at Strikers games are lacking because the team plays in  arguably the worst facility for any professional club in the United States, and that the supporters simply cannot be that effective for 90 minutes in an absolute dump of a ground.

However, the group did show it can organize well and make a difference in the last few weeks. While I would argue turning on a team and a coach after six matches of a season creates toxicity and lingering bitterness, the Flight 19 group ultimately prevailed. I firmly believe Neveleff should have been given breathing space by the fans. Instead his tenure as coach of the Strikers lasted a few short months and he was never really given the opportunity to succeed, especially given the late start the team had to preseason. This having been said, Flight 19 has won and shown its bite with the resignations and the team might be forced to placate the group in the future based on this weekend’s developments.

From a commercial perspective the Strikers under new ownership are doing well. The club has sold its first shirt sponsorship, to Azul Airlines of Brazil. The average attendance has increased by over 50%, with the team averaging over 6,300 fans a game as compared to an average of 4,001 a game last season. However, the results have not followed but the new ownership is arguably as far along as Minnesota’s owners were in 2013 and Tampa Bay was under Bill Edwards in 2014. Both clubs have ownership groups that after rocky starts are now excelling and Minnesota is in fact headed to MLS next year.

Regardless of what many might think of the Strikers owners, no doubt every single fan will be thankful they liberated the club from Traffic Sports, the former owners who are the heart of the FIFA scandal and its residual impact on NASL. One last note is that Ricardo Lopes who had been an Assistant Coach with the club since 2006 was fired Sunday, ending nine and a half seasons as a fixture with the team.

8 comments

  1. True Strikers Fan · · Reply

    Kartik this is ridiculous. Your criticism of Flight 19 have been well founded. As a former Ultra who saw our group destroyed by their pettiness and desire to control everything with a small group of decision makers who never leave I appreciated your candor. But now you are giving them credit for doing something which did hurt the team and did create the very toxic atmosphere you describe. They turned on the team quickly and the owners better not placate them. Gunter is gone and I for one hope he doesn’t come back.

    Oh by the way F19 is so well organized they lost half their banners are the last game. Simply lost track of them. Would that happen to any other supporters group anywhere in the country?

    1. Weston Dad · · Reply

      Right, I agree. Kartik criticizes Flight 19. Fair enough.

      But now EMPOWERS them with this crap saying they’ve “won.” I don’t blame Marcelo. He’s got a good jig at Weston where my kids have played. He didn’t need “fans” turning on him after a handful of games. I agree on that also. But by writing this article, Kartik is giving Flight 19 and its 15-20 members all sorts of power.

      This is a shitty shitty article. Those supporters wouldn’t even fill two rows in Tampa at the Rowdies games they are so small.

  2. Victoria · · Reply

    You are kidding right? First, while at the Rowdies Stadium perhaps you heard Ralph’s Mob chanting I can’t hear you because you are so far up their butts you hear everything in echo format but I who was sitting in the visiting team’s fan section the entire time did not hear that one time! And yes I said sitting because it was raining and I had rowdies fans in my lap and I was protecting a flight 19 members foot that was broken from those rowdy rowdies fans and the rain… So back to the point … maybe Ralph’s Mob wasn’t as loud and proud as you recall after all. I did however experience trashy drunk rowdies fans beating up on each other in the bathroom 2 of which had Ralph’s Mob shirts on … Go figure!

    With regard to the Gunter shirts and chants creating a hostile and negative environment … If you can’t take the fire get out of the kitchen! You do not deserve to call yourself a professional coach or professional player if such a “small group” as you like to call Flight 19 doesn’t like you or what you do. If you are truly a professional you suck it up and win! If you can’t do that get out!

    This year’s team is clearly very talented on paper. No one is denying that; however it is clear they have been unable to come together and play as a team. It is a coach and captain’s job to bring a team together to play as a team and if the coach and captain cannot do that (whether because they personally are unable to or higher ups prevent them from doing so) then they need to step down and let someone who can at least try. It is no secret there is favoritism shown to the Brazilin players and it is beyond saddening that all of the non-Brazilian players came over to flight 19 last game and every other home game and thank flight 19 for the support and flight 19 members hug the players and post positive messages to them on social media for their individual outstanding play (perhaps you need to research these things before writing) yet not one Brazilian player that I am aware of has ever come to a flight 19 member to thank them or even wave as the fans pass (Flight 19ers please correct me if I am wrong on that point)… Perhaps the team needs to look internally at their negative atmosphere and who is creating it instead of you and anyone else wanting to blame a roughly 100 member group of supporters who support their team rain or shine, win or loss, champions or bottom of the league! Flight 19 cares about their team and players and wants the best for them and is willing to do what it takes to light a fire under someone’s behind!

    A real journalist investigates before running their mouth … A real journalist gets both sides of a story or at least attempts to before posting … I didn’t see a Flight 19 quote from you in your post in which you report to have received comments from others about Flight 19 … Perhaps you should think before you speak … Like a professional adult and journalist… In my opinion anyway.

  3. Coexist · · Reply

    I don’t argue with any piece of this article. What I do argue with is Kardex constant comments on Twitter and on radio shows at the strikers have the most talented team in the league. What exactly does he base this on? We have not seen anything this season indicating that they have all this talent. He is just saying it because he is shillimh for the ownership now and brought him into the fold after his critical articles which by the way were very accurate. But I now know he’s renounced those articles saying he was wrong to write those.

    I totally agree that flight 19 was over-the-top in their criticisms. But perhaps they were listening to you claiming this team is so talented was frustrated by the results because you claimed that this team is the third best team in the league. Yet Brian Quarstad who you know well says that Fort Lauderdale still has the third lowest payroll in the league. So which is it Kartik?

  4. FTL till I die · · Reply

    Okay Kartik you’ve now gone too far.

    Is Flight 19 a small group? YES. Have we grown the way other groups in the state have? NO

    But why don’t you take your arrogant prickly ass and look in the mirror? And why don’t you acknowledge that the organization, PAST AND PRESENT has done nothing to help us grow. The team has if anything been standoffish with us. We also had to fight off so-called supporters who cared more about bringing MLS to Miami than backing the Strikers.

    So our being small is very easily explained.

    Now this toxic atmosphere you refer to was created by an owner who disrespected players and coaches who had gotten us to within minutes of a title last season! He brought in a youth coach to lead this team! I agree with coexist. You built up this team as a better version of last year’s team yet you feel we are being harsh criticizing the owners and coaches when we’ve gone from almost first to almost worst in six months?????

    Maybe you ought to have your head examined or reveal how much either Ricardo is paying you to flip sides OR how much the Rowdies pay you to cause trouble in paradise which is down here because nobody would like in Tampa or Orlando instead of south Florida.

  5. Jonathan · · Reply

    Kartik’s love for airlines explains his about-face. Azul as a shirt sponsor makes him LOVE the Strikers. Seriously, he’s that shallow when it comes to airlines.

  6. kARTICK HAS SOLD HIS SOUL TO THE ORLANDO AZTECS & WAS ALWAYS A RALPH’S MOB MEMBER.NO RESPECT TO A BANDWAGON JUMPER CAN;T WAIT FOR MANCITYOF NY FC TO IMPLODE.STRIKERS .& STOCKPORT TIL I DIE FEBRUARY 6TH 1978 STOCKPORT 2 STRIKERS 4.NEVLEFF WAS STILL HOLDING HIS JOB DOWN AT WESTON! IS THAT ANY WAY TO RUN A PRO TEAM?

  7. […] in names between the two airlines he started. Earlier this year, Azul announced it was becoming the shirt sponsor for the NASL’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers, which was a clear attempt to create more brand awareness within […]

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