|Downtown Miami Skyline|
(Courtesy of Destionation360.com)
The gateway to South & Central America and the Caribbean, Miami has the cultural diversity to make an expansion franchise a truly unique experience.
I'm not going to get into the whole, MLS failed in Miami before discussion, anyone with half a brain understands the league that contracted in 2001 is not the same as it is today. I'm sure if you told someone back in 2001 that Portland would have a franchise in 10 years they would think you were crazy too, again the league has changed in a decade. Instead I am going to apply the 3 MLS standard criteria for expansion (fan support, stadium, and ownership) to Miami and see where they fall in the race for an expansion franchise.
A lot of people point to the issue of fan support right now for the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers of the NASL and say if they can't draw people, what makes you think an MLS team will do any better? Even though Lockhart Stadium is a great place to watch soccer, it is still a football stadium adjacent to an airport and away from downtown foot traffic, about as close to Miami as Gillette Stadium is to Boston; not very. The fan support is there as is evident through the Miami Ultras and their quest to get a MLS team back in South Florida. Add to the fact that just about every South & Central American along with Caribbean nation is represented in the area, you have a core base of fans that support domestic and international teams. Summer tours almost always come close to selling out Sun Life Stadium such as Barcelona/CD Guadalajara last summer and Chelsea/AC Milan likely will this summer. However, Miami, just like Tampa and Orlando suffer from the uniquely Florida problem of too many entertainment options. The reason attendance is low for baseball in Tampa and Miami with competitive teams is because there are so many other options outside for entertainment. MLS will have to create a unique experience that will draw fans in during those hot summer nights on a consistent basis.
|Livestrong Sporting Park placed over|
the Amphitheater at Bayfront Park
(Click to Enlarge)
Ownership is a bit of an issue right now as well. Traffic Sports currently own the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, and they do have a fairly strong resume of organizing South American soccer tournaments like Copa America. What they don't have is a long history of franchise ownership, which might be why they decided to get their feet wet with the Strikers and NASL. In my opinion, Miami is similar to NY2, if the stadium deal can be reached, MLS will have no problem finding an owner willing to fork over $80-100M for an expansion slot. Unlike Orlando who have a proven owner in Phil Rawlins or Atlanta with an NFL owner like Arthur Blanke, Traffic Sports are the new kids on the block, but with a big name/money partner there is no reason they couldn't afford a team.
Don Garber has always said that it isn't a question of if, it was a question of when MLS would return to South Florida. Although the competition is strong from Orlando, Atlanta, and Charlotte, it is hard to believe that an MLS Southeast expansion plan does not include Miami.