Soccer

Fort Lauderdale Strikers run out of money, future in jeopardy

The Fort Lauderdale Strikers are on a seven-match unbeaten streak, but serious financial woes forced the club to cease funding operations and seek help from other league owners.
The Fort Lauderdale Strikers are on a seven-match unbeaten streak, but serious financial woes forced the club to cease funding operations and seek help from other league owners. mocner@miamiherald.com

The future of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers is in jeopardy, as serious financial woes forced the club to cease funding operations and seek help from other league owners. The Brazilian ownership group is expected to put the team up for sale.

The Strikers, who play in the second-tier North American Soccer League, have been struggling financially for quite some time. According to several sources connected with the team, some players’ paychecks have bounced, others were told to wait to deposit checks and debts are owed to third-party vendors such as stadium security and maintenance crews.

Sources confirmed a report by Raleigh, North Carolina, TV station WRAL, which covers the Carolina RailHawks, that the Strikers’ principal owner Paulo Cesso recently approached the league and told them that as of Sept. 1, the club ceased funding the team.

The Strikers’ player payroll is estimated to be about $1.5 million, and the team expenses also include travel, stadium rental, vendors and salaries for the few front-office staff members who have not been let go in recent months. The team’s average attendance (1,452) is lowest in the 12-team league, and the club moved from Lockhart Stadium to Central Broward Regional Stadium earlier this month.

The NASL Board of Governors is meeting next week, and the Strikers situation is one of the items on the agenda. The WRAL report said the league might pick up the team’s unpaid expenses through the end of the calendar year, which are estimated to be between $1.25 million and $1.75 million.

“It is so, so sad what they’ve done to the Strikers brand,” said Eddie Rodger, a longtime South Florida soccer promoter whose company KICS International handled the team’s operations until the Strikers stopped paying them after one game this season. “It’s a disaster. This is not the Strikers I know. This is a fake. It’s like going to the Swap Shop and getting a fake Rolex. They have taken a respected brand and run it into the gutter.”

The current Strikers ownership group bought the team from Traffic, a Brazilian sports marketing company, in September 2014. There was some initial buzz, partly because legend Ronaldo was named as a minority owner. But Ronaldo was not involved, never showed up, and interest in the team began to wane.

Also, the new owners fired popular coach Gunther Kronsteiner, who had twice taken the Strikers from last place to the playoffs. Tom Mulroy, a beloved Miami soccer promoter, was let go as Strikers president in November 2014. Brazilian Luis Cuccati was named managing director and made many changes.

Tim Robbie, whose family owned the original Strikers in the 1970s and who was very involved with the new incarnation of the team, left the organization in May 2015.

“They didn’t just burn bridges with the local soccer community, they nuked them,” Rodger said. “It’s disgraceful. They tossed everyone who cared most about the Strikers brand to the curb, lied to people and now they will just go back to Brazil and who knows what will become of this team.”

Strikers officials declined comment until after the NASL board meeting.

Despite the problems, the Strikers are on a seven-match unbeaten streak. They play the Tampa Bay Rowdies at home Saturday at 7 p.m.

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