Written By: Jay
Shahid Khan just spent £200 million of his own money (theoretically) to buy Fulham. Khan already owns a Florida sport team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, but rather than pursuing an MLS franchise in Jacksonville or any other location in Florida he decided to look abroad. Khan becomes the sixth American owner and the second Floridian resident (the Glazer family owns Manchester United) to purchase an EPL team.
Neither Khan nor the Glazers decided to invest their own money to become the owner of the only MLS franchise east of Houston and south of D.C. Is the stench of failure from both the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the Miami Fusion folding in 2001 still lingering over the Sunshine State? Perhaps the meager attendance of the state’s professional summer sports teams, the Miami Marlins and Tampa Rays, scared them off. According to ESPN, at the MLB All-Star break, attendance is near the bottom at 46.5% and 52.2% of capacity, respectively. In 2012, the Miami Dolphins had the lowest attendance to capacity percentage in the NFL and the second lowest the prior year. When it is your fortune, you have the right to ask these questions.
When MLS and the Galaxy brought David Beckham to Los Angeles in 2007, his contract contained an option for an expansion fee at $25 million. A year prior, the MLS expansion fee was $30 million. It is unlikely, a new franchise in an unoccupied market will fetch the reported $100 expansion fee Manchester City and the New York Yankees paid earlier this year. That fee likely included a pay out to the NY Red Bulls. However, it is likely to fall somewhere between the $40 million paid by the Montreal Impact in 2010 and that $100 million. The Forbes’ sports business writer Mike Ozanian predicted the fair value expansion fee at $70 million.
Does the MLS Board of Governors want to invest league resources in the location of its two biggest failures? Should the BOG allow the former face of the league with no ownership or managerial experience bring a club into one of the most fickle sports markets in the country? Selling sneakers and underwear has yet to translate to being successful at sports operation.
Is that what Miami wants? Does it want a soccer star/model to bring a MLS franchise and build a soccer specific stadium on their dime? Eighty percent of the $639 million in construction costs for Marlins Park was paid through public debt. At the end of the 40-year loan after interest and service cost the final projected figure is $2.4 billion. In March, the Miami Dolphins asked for $200 million for renovations to Sun Life Stadium. In a recent column in the Miami-Herald, Miami Heat beat-writer Joseph Goodman argues the key to MLS success is a new stadium in South Beach’s Flamingo Park.
Goodman pleads in this “open message to David Beckham” to build an arena in South Beach rather than play at Florida International University:
Getting it right is getting a stadium in South Beach, a place where young people with disposable incomes live and work and practically shut down the island during the World Cup, a place where people could walk to games and a relatively small soccer stadium would have a neighborhood feel, a place where soccer would be fun and exciting and sexy.
Getting it wrong is putting a team at FIU.
Again: Beckham in South Beach works. Beckham out by the Turnpike and Tamiami would be an embarrassing disaster for everyone involved. Are we clear?
Are we clear Miami?
Are you ready to fund another stadium?
Just add the cost on top of the $400 million for Marlins Park, the $200 million for the Sun Life Stadium renovation, and, Miami, you deserve a better stadium than NYCFC so let’s make it an even $400 million for the new building. A billion in public debt over five years for a city of 400,000 puts each citizen on the hook for $2,500, not including interest and services. But don’t worry, you can probably tax the shit out of the tourists with hotel, car rental, and parking taxes.
If Florida is a necessary part of MLS growth strategy it would be wiser to put it in Orlando. Whether it is buying the USL’s Orlando City SC or starting a franchise from scratch. Unlike Miami or Tampa, the city’s sports fans have proven not to be fair weathered. The Orlando Magic fell within the middle of NBA attendance last season despite starting a rebuilding project after trading away their franchise player.
The MLS has room to grow, but it is still fighting for respectability among the global football community and even within the United States. David Beckham’s new franchise is not going to sign the soccer version of Lebron James in 2016. Ask any NY Red Bull supporter, World Cup popularity doesn’t translate into full crowds. The South Ward of Newark is shut down for every Brazil, Portugal, and Spanish World Cup match, but the Red Bulls are lucky if half those fans walk .8 miles to Harrison.
Should the city of Miami bank on David Beckham bringing the Showtime Lakers atmosphere to South Beach? As the Charlotte Bobcats have demonstrated, it matters more who’s on the court/field than in the owner’s box. Until Miami and Florida residents can prove they are willing to support a sports franchise when it’s not on top, it would be better for the league, the taxpayers, and Beckham to pass.
A bit about the author:
Jay’s first memory of professional soccer was watching a flaming haired pirate in a blue shirt with white stars menace a golden shirt lion on the field of roses. Since then, he has followed the game from the cradle of US soccer, Northern Jersey. Tracking the progress of the sport in the states through the international team and Major League Soccer he has become a student of tactical football, the business of sports and the cultural impact of the game. Jay enjoys the view from the ivory tower but is not afraid to be in arm’s length of the ultras in the South Ward. You can follow Jay on Twitter @rescindedred.