Soccer in Miami: Is This Time Different?

It’s an usually cool and clear night in Miami and FIU stadium has 10,000 visitors ready to watch the new Miami FC, a second-division NASL team, play its first game. Promoters gave free tickets to those attending the nearby Miami Dade Youth Fair. The conditions for Miami FC’s opening game could not have been more favorable. However, are the prospects for the success of soccer in Miami just as favorable?

The Mirage

Miami has not been fertile grounds for soccer in the past. The stereotype that Hispanics love soccer (probably) attracted franchises to open, mostly without success. Ironically, these teams have found more success in more “American” Broward county, a few miles to the north.

The Miami Toros were the first professional soccer team in Miami, playing in the Orange Bowl, Tamiami Stadium, and MDC North. The Toros, debuting in 1972, were a team to contend with and had decent attendance. In the 1974 season, the team even made it to the league finals and had an attendance of 7,300 fans. However, after poor performances and declining attendance, the team moved to Lockhart Stadium and rebranded as the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers. The Strikers went on to have seven successful seasons before moving to Minnesota.

Soccer came again to Miami-Dade with the creation of the Miami Freedom playing in the Orange Bowl in 1988. However, this team did not reach the level of success as the Toros, and had an attendance of a thousand fans watching a game in a stadium that holds 73,000. The team folded in 1992.

By 1998, the newly created MLS Miami Fusion was not able to even find a home in Miami-Dade County. The Fusion instead played in Lockhart Stadium in North Ft. Lauderdale. While Broward County was more hospitable to soccer teams, as shown by the success of the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, having a first division team playing 30 miles from the city of its namesake was not good for maintaining local interest. Attendance hovered between 9 to 10 thousand and the team also folded after four seasons.

“Miami’s a Football Town”

With the exception of the Fusion, Miami’s previous soccer franchises played in the Orange Bowl, where they weren’t the first or second attraction. The Toros were founded the year of the Miami Dolphins’s perfect season. The Freedom played in an era where the Miami Hurricanes were contenders for the CFB National Championship and made frequent appearances in the Orange Bowl Championship. It’s hard to build interest in a new team when competing with other more successful local sports franchises.

It’s been 15 years since the Miami Fusion disestablished and Miami-Dade County has rapidly changed. Miami-Dade’s population has increased by 400,000 residents, driven by migration from Venezuela, Haiti, and Cuba. In fact, the Hispanic population of Miami-Dade jumped from 58% in 2000 to 68% in 2014. I don’t want to jump into stereotypes here, but it’s a safe assumption to say that Hispanics are more open to soccer than other groups.

Demographic changes, a lack of overshadowing from other franchises, and a good location would set the conditions for a successful, long-lasting Pro Soccer team in Miami.

The Test

Miami Beckham United has been working hard in trying to open an MLS team in Miami, but has so far struggled to achieve it. After negotiating with the city of Miami, Miami-Dade County, and the school board, three of their proposed stadium sites have been discarded. As of today, negotiations are ongoing to secure the fourth possible stadium site in Overtown. While David Beckham struggles to secure a site in downtown, fifteen miles west, a second-league soccer franchise plays their home opening game.

Miami FC, a co-venture of Italians Riccardo Silva and Paolo Maldini, is a NASL franchise that recently started playing in FIU Stadium. This new franchise might end up acting as a test to measure how viable Beckham’s franchise could be.

This isn’t a perfect test though. Beckham’s downtown location shows that he wants to appeal to a younger, urban, and wealthier fan base. The lack of any parking in the current stadium proposal shows that he might even be willing to sacrifice appealing to loyal Broward commuters. Silva and Maldini’s West Miami-Dade location is likely to appeal to suburban families and Hispanic immigrants. Adopting FIU’s stadium allows the team to sit between the Kendall, Doral, and Weston communities, and provides plenty of parking for the family SUVs.

Regardless of incongruity, it’s worth keeping an eye on Miami FC’s development to see if 15 years of change will result in a resurgence of soccer in Miami, or if soccer is doomed to fail again.

Additional Reading:

Like what you read? Give Ariel Rojas a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.