Last week’s transfer via public auction of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers copyright and brand to St Petersburg magnate Bill Edwards hasn’t sat well with some Strikers fans. But the club which has been controlled previously by owners from Brazil now is for the first time in its post mid 1990’s history in the hands of an American businessman based in Florida. A more localized custodian of the brand who will understand the proper value of the club’s trademarks in addition to the real estate, political and soccer landscape in Florida better than foreign owners is a plus for the Strikers. Some fans would like to see the Strikers name retired for time being and not further run through the mud so to speak. This is a very valid and emotional response to the disastrous downfall of the club, but it can be argued with that in mind the brand is better off in Edwards’ hands (for now) than in that of someone else.
As Jake Nutting of Empire of Soccer (EoS) reported two months ago, several bid have been rejected by NASL for the Strikers. One bid from PSG Miami (dba FC Miami City) who operate a PDL team was rejected in early January for according to to Nutting’s reporting and additional sources for not having an adequate budget proposal for NASL. It’s worth noting at this point NASL has seen several teams collapse the last few seasons due to higher than anticipated operating costs and arguably poor vetting of potential owners. It has been speculated that NASL when admitting new clubs or approving new owners were not as forthright about the high cost of operating in a sprawling continental league with minimal sponsorship opportunities in the 2013 to 2015 period, leading to multiple ownership or club failures. However, now NASL’s cost structure is more of an open book and prospective owners understand the costs involved in operating within the league.
At the time the PSG Miami deal was rejected, NASL’s other owners were having to bail out a failing team in Jacksonville and had just found an unlikely owner who saved the New York Cosmos who seemed destined to fold. The eleventh hour sale of sale of Cosmos allowed NASL to keep a minimum number of clubs to be sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) without the Strikers. Another NASL club, RayoOKC ran into financial difficulty and suspended operations after the 2016 season while two of the few successful NASL teams from a business standpoint, Ottawa and Edwards’ Tampa Bay Rowdies bailed on the league and its higher cost structure, joining the rival USL, based in Tampa which has a lower cost structure and a more vibrant and active league office to assist owners in the operation of teams. Edwards move of the Rowdies from NASL to USL is potentially critical in the Strikers story.
It’s refreshing in some respect to hear that NASL is vetting owners more tightly than they have in the past – but in the past the league often sold a line (including to me) that it was not expanding as quickly as USL because they had more stringent standards for admission and ownership than the rival league. But that didn’t prevent multiple failures after the last two seasons. Now in 2017, we’re hearing NASL has made its standards even more stringent and that is why none of the proposed Fort Lauderdale sales have been approved.
Of course NASL had approved the initial sale of the Strikers from Traffic Sports to the group headed by Paulo Cesso in September 2014 because on paper the group was worth hundreds of millions of dollars and its spokesperson Ricardo Geromel talked a good game about the Strikers being a “global brand” and once even took a shot at David Beckham calling him an “underwear model,” and seeming unconcerned about potential local competition from MLS.
The new NASL vetting producers likely wouldn’t stop a Cesso-like group from buying a team but has stopped others, who are locally based. As a result the Strikers still have employees and vendors owed tens of thousands of dollars. NASL probably feels this is not their problem (requests from comment from the league have gone unanswered). However, it is soccer’s problem because if someone wants to start a professional team again in Fort Lauderdale or the adjoining area, vendors who have been burnt and others you need to be successful in what is a largely specialty professional may be less willing to engage without up-front payment or some other arrangement. But from NASL’s standpoint that might not be a consideration at all. As we enter July 2017, several vendors and employees are still owed money by the Strikers previous owners from over a year. It’s also true that NASL’s owners are technically owed money by the club’s former owners as well, including league dues which we understand were never fully paid last season.
Here’s potentially why – Miami FC, a local rival to the Strikers, whom Geromel reluctantly conceded to allow joining NASL in May 2015, due to assurances from the league to protect the Strikers market (assurances that were not completely met by either the league or Miami FC per Strikers sources) is now the golden child of the league with the fading of the New York Cosmos star. A league that has now for several years craved international recognition and appeal is in a sexy city (well at least the club’s offices are) and have a billionaire owner in Riccardo Silva, an Italian broadcast giant. NASL got to Miami before MLS did with David Beckham’s tortoise-paced effort leaving the door open. Irrespective of how people spin things, Miami and Fort Lauderdale ARE the same market. The interest in American professional soccer isn’t developed enough for the markets to be split and compete with one another. In 2014, the last year I have available data for, close to a quarter of the Strikers season ticket holders came from Miami-Dade County. Lob a quarter of the ticket holders off an already tenuous situation and you have greater issues. Toss in mismanagement and an absentee owner and you have a club failure.
Fort Lauderdale has the distinction of being the only city in North America to lose both an MLS and NASL team. While the soccer infrastructure in southeast Florida is more developed than in other parts of the country the market has failed repeatedly. But it’s worth recalling that the Tampa Bay Rowdies were on the brink of collapse, potentially giving that area yet another failed pro soccer club when Edwards stepped in to the fray early in 2014. Today, Tampa Bay is on the shortlist for MLS expansion after heavy investment from Edwards. It is true that the Downtown area of St Petersburg includes several properties owned or of interest to Edwards. But what if an investor like Edwards saw potential in southern Florida, using the Strikers or perhaps the to-be-auctioned Lockhart Stadium property as a potential anchor?
Sources also indicate Noriega might be interested in pursuing another professional club, which perhaps he can do in cooperation with Edwards at the USL level or the new USL D3 league that will begin play in 2019.
USL isn’t high on the Fort Lauderdale market I’ve been told, though it is often forgotten they tried to place a team in the area in 2011 and even applied to the USSF for D3 status with a Fort Lauderdale club listed. It was also speculated that USL might relocate its Antigua club to Fort Lauderdale when the decision was made to exit the Caribbean completely a few years later but that did not happen.
The Miami/Fort Lauderdale/West Palm Beach area is fragmented market with 8 NPSL & PDL teams (Division 4) in addition to Miami FC and the likely coming MLS team associated with David Beckham. The market has no absence of professional and semipro soccer to consume, though it is
This story continues to develop and no doubt we’ll be covering it closely here.