Soccer

Fort Lauderdale Strikers team sold to trio of Brazilians

New York Cosmos player Marcos Senna (in green) loses the ball to the Strikers’ Manny Gonzalez and Toni Stahl during a game at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013.
New York Cosmos player Marcos Senna (in green) loses the ball to the Strikers’ Manny Gonzalez and Toni Stahl during a game at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. EL NUEVO HERALD

The Fort Lauderdale Strikers will announce Friday morning that they have been sold from Traffic Sports to a group of three Brazilian investors who will take over at the end of this season.

The new owners are Paulo Cesso, an entrepreneur in the fields of education and technology; Rafael Bertani, who ran a large education group in China that was sold to Pearson for $719.6 million; and Ricardo Geromel, who attended Fairleigh Dickinson University on a soccer scholarship and was a teammate of Weston native Alejandro Bedoya of the U.S. national team.

They will be formally introduced at a press conference Friday morning in Fort Lauderdale.

Geromel writes for Forbes magazine and has worked in sectors as varied as agricultural commodities trading, soccer and plastics. He will be the managing partner based in Fort Lauderdale, overseeing day-to-day operations. He is extremely excited about the future of the Strikers and vowed to increase resources, add “considerably more” staff and improve the Lockhart Stadium experience.

“We see owning the Strikers as a great opportunity,” Geromel said by phone Thursday. “Soccer in the U.S. is already really, really big. Investing in soccer here makes great sense.”

He pointed out that Americans ranked No.2 in World Cup tickets bought this summer (200,000), behind only host Brazil, and that U.S. television ratings for the World Cup were 37 percent higher than four years ago.

“There are 25 million children playing soccer in this country and only 9,000 soccer clubs,” he said. “In Brazil, we have nowhere near that number of kids playing, and we have 30,000 clubs. I believe pro teams will mushroom in this country, the level of local talent will improve in every market, and our goal is to retain our local players so they can play professionally in their backyards and fans can watch great soccer in their communities.”

He said the new ownership group will “not try to be everything to everybody.” They will focus on the Fort Lauderdale market and try to capitalize on the Strikers’ brand and its rich history from the glory NASL days of the 1970s and early 1980s.

“We want to turn the Strikers back into a household name,” Geromel said. “We want to create an affordable experience for the fans, and we hope the community will embrace us. This is why we chose NASL instead of investing in an MLS team. An MLS franchise would cost us $100 million, and we felt it was better for us to invest our money in the team itself, be able to sell tickets for $20 and build on the tradition the Strikers already have.”

Geromel said Tim Robbie will stay on as managing director and that Tom Mulroy will stay as president.

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