Tom Mulroy played defender for just about every American soccer league that existed in the 1970s and 1980s. He bounced around from the Miami Toros to the Cleveland Cobras to the New York Eagles to the Hartford Hellions to the Fort Lauderdale Sun.
In other words, he knows a thing or two about pro soccer in this country. He went on to launch Soccer Marketing and Promotion and Se Habla Futbol, a pair of Miami-based soccer marketing firms, and spent the past two decades passionately selling soccer in South Florida.
His job title has changed. But he’s still pitching soccer to anyone who will listen.
As first-year president of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Mulroy’s chief concern is getting fans into Lockhart Stadium. The team plays its second home game of the season Saturday night against the cross-state rival Tampa Bay Rowdies, and Mulroy would love to see 5,000-plus fans in the stands.
“Hey, it’s our Clasico, right? Cross-state rival,” he said.
“Both clubs have a strong tradition from the old NASL days. It would be great to get some of that excitement back.”
The team averaged 3,615 fans last season, just shy of the NASL average of 3,810.
San Antonio drew the biggest crowds — 9,176 on average. Mulroy aims to reach those numbers one fan at a time.
“We are rebuilding from the ground up,” Mulroy said Wednesday.
“I don’t have Dan Marino or [Lionel] Messi to sell. I don’t have the advertising budget for billboards up and down I-95. So, our approach is going to be to tap each local kid on the head and invite him or her to a game.
“We need to become relevant again, and if I can’t get soccer families to come, I’m certainly not going to get the Monday Night Football guy.”
The Strikers sales staff, coaches and players have been dispatched all over Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties the past few months to bond with the local soccer community and spread the word about their team. They are conducting clinics for coaches and players. They have done 120 appearances already, and their goal is 500 by season’s end.
One of the biggest struggles for the Strikers and the MLS’ Miami Fusion that played at Lockhart before is that South Florida is a soccer-savvy market with European soccer taste. The majority of fans here prefer watching international stars on T.V. in the English, Spanish and Champions League rather than watching players they don’t know in person.
Mulroy is realistic enough to know that culture won’t change. But he is determined to get at least some of those soccer junkies hooked on his team. The Strikers made the playoffs the past two seasons, and featured two of the league’s top six scorers.
“We’re pushing a big ball up a steep hill, but I believe the future is bright,” Mulroy said.
“Let’s start with this Saturday’s game. Strikers against Rowdies. Give us a try. I think people might be surprised if they come out and watch our guys play.”