Michelle Kaufman

No surprise that Fort Lauderdale Strikers are on life support

Ronaldo speaks at a news conference in January 2015 when he was declared a minority owner in the Strikers, but the publicity stunt did not score with savvy fans in South Florida.
Ronaldo speaks at a news conference in January 2015 when he was declared a minority owner in the Strikers, but the publicity stunt did not score with savvy fans in South Florida. hgabino@elnuevoherald.com

Once again, one of the nation’s most passionate soccer markets may lose another professional team, largely because of mismanagement.

The Fort Lauderdale Strikers are on life support after their Brazilian ownership group ceased funding the team on Sept. 1, asking the North American Soccer League for a loan. Unless they find a buyer, the team’s future is in jeopardy (and word is they are throwing around a $7 million price tag, which seems awful steep).

As the Miami Herald reported on Thursday, players’ paychecks have bounced, third-party vendors are owed money, and attendance has dipped to a league-low 1,400, which is not helping the revenue flow. According to Raleigh, North Carolina, TV station WRAL, which covers the Carolina RailHawks, league owners have been asked to cover unpaid Strikers expenses totaling between $1.25 million and $1.75 million.

This mess hardly comes as a surprise to South Florida soccer insiders, who had a pretty good idea that the Strikers’ newest Brazilian ownership group was ill-prepared and misguided when they bought the club two years ago.

They assumed, as many newcomers to the area do, that South Florida is a melting pot of soccer-loving immigrants, so they could just plop a team here and — voila! — fans would show up.

They assumed that by parading Brazilian legend Ronaldo at a news conference and declaring him a minority owner that fans here and in Brazil would all of a sudden become passionate about the team. They assumed they could put anyone with a Brazilian name on the roster and locals would be impressed. They assumed the legacy of the Strikers’ yellow-and-red-striped shirts would be rekindled with little effort.

Wrong.

The fans in this market are too savvy to be bamboozled. They know the real deal when they see it. As longtime South Florida soccer promoter Eddie Rodger said: “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. … It’s disgraceful.”

The owners, led by Paulo Cesso, should have listened to Rodger and Tony Correa, whose KICS International company ran operations for the club until this season. They should have listened to, rather than drive away, former presidents Tim Robbie and Tom Mulroy — two of the most respected figures in the South Florida soccer community.

Instead, they slashed the staff, lost touch with the grassroots soccer community and relied on the Strikers’ brand and their connection with Ronaldo.

Now, they are admitting their errors and pleading with the league and local fans to support them.

In a statement released to soccer writers Friday, the Strikers said:

“In the soccer business, in general teams lose money. It is a simple reality of world football and American soccer, at this moment. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers like any other football club faces this reality.

“It is natural that any club will run into issues that will create potential hiccups in the way the business operates. In difficult times, the club needs lines of credit and community support to persevere through the difficult periods. … At this point in time participating in league play costs our organization more money than we obtain in return.

“The Strikers are in the process of recycling our club’s ownership. … We remain committed to finishing the 2016 NASL campaign including a push to qualify for our third successive postseason berth and will compete in the 2017 NASL season.

“We acknowledge we have made some mistakes in our expectations and business plan. We need the help of our local Broward County Community who embrace this club to get through this difficult time. We have had to look for help. … We’ve gone to NASL for help and they have embraced us. This will allow us to work toward recycling our ownership with the 2017 NASL season in mind.

“There is a lot of speculation as to the selling, splitting, shutting down of the club’s assets or ownership. None of this been stated by Paulo Cesso, the Strikers principal owner. He remains committed to this club, its brand and community.”

On Friday, Paris Saint-Germain Academy Florida — FC Miami City Group, a local youth club and minor-league PDL team affiliated with France’s top club, announced its interest in investing in the Strikers.

Ravy Truchot, the PSG-Florida president, said: “This opportunity comes at the right time for our club to put our foot in the professional soccer in the United States. We are confident that both the NASL and the current management of the Strikers will see in our Group the right partner to reestablish the financial and operational conditions this team and local community deserves to excel in this prestigious league. We have already taken steps to connect with the current management and we look forward to contributing to this amazing project.”

Memo to Truchot: Before you do anything, be sure to talk to Rodger, Correa, Mulroy and Robbie.

Standings

MLS: East — NYC (48), Toronto (47), N.Y. (45), Philadelphia (41), Montreal (38). West — Dallas (52), L.A. (48), Colorado (47), Real Salt Lake (44), Portland (41).

NASL: Cosmos (31), Edmonton (26), Miami FC (25), Indy (24), Minnesota (20).

English Premier League: Manchester City (18), Tottenham (14), Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton (13).

La Liga: Real Madrid (14), Barcelona (13), Bilbao (12), Sevilla (11), Las Palmas and Eibar (10).

Serie A: Juventus (15), Napoli (14), Chievo, Roma, Inter (10).

Ligue 1: Monaco (16), OGC Nice and Toulouse (14), PSG, Bordeaux and Metz (13).

Bundesliga: Bayern Munich (15), Dortmund (12), Cologne, Monchengladbach, Eintracht and Hertha (10).

TV Listings

Sunday: Atletico Madrid vs. Deportiva La Coruna (11 a.m., BEIN, BEINÑ), West Ham vs. Southampton (11 a.m., NBCSN), L.A. vs. Seattle (4 p.m., ESPN), Columbus vs. New England (7 p.m., FS1).

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