South Florida soccer needs big names in order to thrive

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — If rumors of David Beckham bringing a Major League Soccer franchise to South Florida become reality, the international star might want to consider coming out of retirement to draw fans.

“We’re a celebrity culture, and we want to see the best,” said Marc Burton, a 27-year-old attorney from Miami. “If they sign a (Lionel) Messi or a Beckham, then people will want to see them.”

That sentiment was shared by other South Florida fans among the 67,273 attending the inaugural International Champions Cup title and consolation games at Sun Life Stadium on Wednesday night.

“This is a bandwagon town, and if you had a David Beckham or (FC Barcelona’s) Messi, that would attract people,” said Javier Gallegos, 24, from Homestead. “If Peyton Manning were a free agent and signed with the Miami Dolphins, I guarantee people would go to the games.”

Although many soccer fans from various countries live in South Florida, professional teams have struggled to survive in the cultural melting pot.

MLS previously boasted the Miami Fusion, which folded after four seasons (1998-2001).

The Fort Lauderdale Strikers — the fourth team to use the name — currently compete in the North American Soccer League but play before small crowds at Lockhart Stadium.

It seems a South Florida team would be smart to go the route of the old NASL’s New York Cosmos, who signed international stars such as Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia and Franz Beckenbauer in the late 1970s.

Of course, that would take money. Lots if it. But the reward likely would be seen in the seats.

Gallegos, who said he attends about 20 Miami Heat games a year, added his finances would be affected by the presence of soccer’s equivalent to LeBron James or Dwyane Wade.

“I’d probably be a season-ticket holder,” he said.

Well-known stars might make some people happy, but South Florida presents other challenges, too, such as fans preferring to support their native national teams instead of a local pro team.

“When Haiti played here, there were long lines for tickets,” said Kevin Johnson, 32, of Liberty City, Fla. “I’m not a huge soccer fan — I love the Heat — but you can’t beat big names and talent.”

Would he show up to watch internationally known stars play for a local team?

“I’m here tonight, ain’t I?” Johnson said before the Chelsea-Real Madrid title game and AC Milan-LA Galaxy third-place game.

Miami attorney Daniel Poterek, 28, suggested another way a soccer team could connect with South Florida fans.

“I think for a soccer team to survive down here it needs to be the sister team of a beloved team,” Poterek said. “If they were a sister team of the Miami Dolphins, and I could get, say, a Brian Hartline autograph at a soccer game, I would go. I would go anywhere to get an autograph of a player of a team I love.”

Burton said a team’s location also plays an important part.

“Fort Lauderdale helps nobody,” Burton said. “If you want to market to Miami, then play in Miami.”

Ashley Ageeb, 46, from Palmetto Bay, said a South Florida pro soccer team would be wise to help others. Of course, that’s assuming the franchise has enough cash to sufficiently help itself.

“Put some money into the youth soccer programs in the area,” Ageeb said. “That way you gain fans among the youngsters and their parents.”

Richard Burton, Marc’s father, was thinking out of the box when offering his ideas on building a fan base.

“They need to add some breaks into the action — make it American-style soccer, we’re too ADD here,” the elder Burton said. “They also need a good song. Soccer hooliganism is an art and it needs a song.”

Perhaps that’s where Posh Spice, aka Victoria Beckham, could help out?

Charlie McCarthy can be reached at mac1763@bellsouth.net
or on Twitter @mccarthy_chas
.