Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross made headlines last week when he stated at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit in New York that he would like to bring a Major League Soccer team to Miami.
That was not news to anyone who has been following Miami’s bid process closely — it was just the first time he stated it in a public forum. Ross and his RSE Ventures group expressed interest privately and contacted MLS several months ago, around the time David Beckham was touring Sun Life Stadium and FIU Stadium as the soccer/fashion icon explored the possibility of owning a Miami franchise.
Beckham continues to research the Miami market, and has been approached by several potential partners, the most public being Marcelo Claure, the Bolivian cell phone mogul who owns Miami-based Brightstar Communications.
An MLS source confirmed that while Miami remains high on the list of expansion cities, along with Atlanta and Orlando, none of the talks with potential Miami ownership groups have gone beyond the exploratory stages. There are no stadium plans in place, as there are in Atlanta and Orlando, and that is the biggest question about the South Florida bid.
MLS commissioner Don Garber reiterated last week that the league plans to add four teams by 2020, and that three of the four spots are basically reserved. He did not say Atlanta, Orlando and Miami are the cities in mind, but that is the assumption.
Atlanta’s bid heated up in recent weeks. Falcons owner Arthur Black, who has been trying to get an MLS team for a long time, is building a $1 billion stadium that will include MLS specifications, locker rooms and office space. It is due to open in 2017. Orlando has specific plans for a new soccer stadium.
“There is a lot of passion for soccer in Miami, and a lot of wealthy people are kicking the tires about MLS, and trying to partner with Beckham, but Miami’s stadium plan is not as advanced yet as those in Atlanta and Orlando,” the MLS source said. “Of course, things can change very quickly in these situations.”
Sun Life Stadium has drawn huge crowds for international matches, but is considered too big for MLS. League officials prefer a 25,000 to 30,000-seat soccer-specific stadium. Bigger stadiums will be considered if they have a downsizing system that can hide the upper bowl — and not just with drapes. Vancouver and the proposed Atlanta stadium have sophisticated retractable awnings that can be deployed, leaving the lower bowl as an intimate 25,000-seat venue.
So, for now, South Florida fans will have to sit and wait until someone comes up with a viable home.
Details are being finalized for the inaugural Miami Soccer Challenge, an event featuring two high-profile teams at Marlins Park. The stadium has a three-year deal with Global Football Challenge, which has held exhibition matches in Dubai, Shanghai and New York. Plans called for a one-match format in 2013, growing to a four-team tournament in 2014-15.
The Challenge had been in discussions with Bayern Munich and Hamburg from the German Bundesliga; Ajax and PSV Eindhoven from the Dutch League; Roma, AC Milan and Juventus from Italy’s Serie A; Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Valencia from Spain; Argentina’s Boca Juniors; Mexico’s Chivas; and Brazil’s Vasco De Gama, Santos and Flamengo. English Premier League teams are also being considered.