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SBI View: Starting at Lockhart site not a good look for Inter Miami and MLS


If things go according to Inter Miami’s desired plans, Tuesday will be a memorable day in the club’s history.

It would also be an eyesore for both the team and MLS after years of false promises.

Inter Miami should learn on Tuesday afternoon the fate of its hopes to receive approval to enter negotiations to build a stadium to call home, at least on a temporary basis. While getting the green light would certainly be a major positive for the expansion MLS club, given all the difficulty it has experienced in trying to secure a stadium deal since 2014, the location of where the proposed venue will be constructed is not ideal.

It is not ideal for Inter Miami, it is not ideal for MLS, and it is not ideal for the soccer-crazed fans in the market that were promised a stadium near Miami’s urban core.

If you have not kept up with all the moving parts in this story — and, frankly, there have been quite a few twists and turns — Inter Miami made a late effort last week to try and secure the site where the unused Lockhart Stadium sits. The plan is to demolish that venue and build a new one to play in during the 2020 and 2021 MLS seasons. There is a competing bid from a group called FXE Futbol that wants to refurbish Lockhart for a USL team, but Inter Miami’s hope is that the City of Ft. Lauderdale will opt for the MLS proposal.

Yes, you read that correctly.

The City of Ft. Lauderdale will decide whether Inter Miami can build a stadium on the exact same location that the Miami Fusion played in nearly two decades ago. The exact same location that has been widely criticized by league officials for why the Fusion failed to draw large enough crowds. The exact same location that is approximately a 45-minute drive north from downtown Miami.

The landscapes of the market and MLS may be significantly different than they were in 2001 when the Fusion were gutted, but not to the point that Ft. Lauderdale has ever been seen as a place to host.

“Our strong belief is that, to be successful, it needs to be downtown,” MLS president Mark Abbott told the Miami Herald back in 2014 of Inter Miami’s stadium plans.

Let’s be clear: Ft. Lauderdale has a passionate soccer fan base. It may not be an MLS fan base, but plenty of people in the area play and watch the sport religiously. That certainly is a positive for Inter Miami, especially if it can tap into that crowd and that of northern neighbor Palm Beach County.

That said, a first impression is important and beginning play in Ft. Lauderdale for what has been said to be two years (but in reality may end up being much more given the uncertainty of Miami Freedom Park) is going to be a tough sell for Miami residents. At least on a consistent basis.

The harsh reality of the South Florida market is that people in Miami dislike driving north into either of the other two counties. It is why the majority of concerts and one-off sporting events happen in or closer to the heart of Miami and not in Ft. Lauderdale. It is also why the NBA’s Heat, NFL’s Dolphins, and MLB’s Marlins all play in Miami-Dade County.

By playing in Ft. Lauderdale, Inter Miami would make things even tougher on itself in trying to make an impact in a market that is loaded with competition for attention and dollars. The club could mitigate some of that with a nice stadium and Beckham’s star power drawing big names on the field and in the coaching staff, but the club would also have to play well, win often, and compete for a title right off the bat to keep both the media and people interested enough in consistently driving to Ft. Lauderdale, especially beyond 2020 when the initial shine starts wearing off.

Maybe Inter Miami can manage all that. Maybe Inter Miami has what it takes. After all, the Beckham brand is globally alluring and Miami itself is a hit destination that many players across the world would love to live and play in.

Still, starting and playing at the Lockhart Stadium site is bad for optics and bad for Inter Miami and MLS after years of stressing how this would be a true Miami club. Tuesday’s vote may go Inter Miami’s way, but the work to win over local soccer fans will only just be beginning.


  1. Somebody with knowledge of the situation on the ground in Miami, tell me what the alternative is to playing at Lockhart. I understand Marlins Park turned them down, what about Hard Rock? I also read somewhere Hard Rock is not available due to both the Dolphins and U playing there. What about FAU or FIU? And is the current golf course site that Inter wants to build a permanent facility no longer available. If this is truly temporary, I am not sure I see the issue.

  2. To be honest I didn’t see any problem the team playing in Fort Laudardale , 110% better than playing in a Base Ball stadium..

    • Fusion’s average attendance at Lockhart the no-playoffs year before they were folded was 7k. They topped out at 11k regular season or 13k the years they made the playoffs. I get things can change but the onus should be on the people saying sure move them there to explain how a second effort turns out different. Because my impression from watching attendance stats for years of their minor league teams, plus the Fusion, is the fans don’t care and you would need something special to change anything. So something special is put them back where they were last time and change the owner? Meh.

  3. You realize this is only temporary while their Miami stadium is constructed. Additionally another factor you are not taking into consideration is the Brightline train that now connects downtown West Palm Beach to downtown Miami, with a stop in downtown Ft. Lauderdale. This did not exist during the days of the Fusion. The Brightline should help out transporting fans back and forth between cities. As a South Florida resident, this is a good temporary solution until the Miami stadium is built.

    • Until the whole package of land purchase, usage approval, construction beginning, etc. starts, this is approving a team to play under the same conditions as the Fusion in the hope something changes, and not in a stadium they would own. NYC in Yankee Stadium is brutal to watch but the Yankees also own them in part. This Miami team would be paying rent to a college.

  4. Okay, fine Mr. Panizo, but what’s your grand alternative that can get built or easily re-purposed in the next two years? A giant baseball or football stadium that looks half empty and isn’t designed for soccer? There isn’t enough paper to print all of the criticism levied against the Revs and NYCFC for those stadiums. And Inter Miami’s press release presented a bunch of good reasons for why that wouldn’t work very well (and wouldn’t set up the organization for long-term success with its youth academy). So it’s easy to complain and criticize. What would be better in your estimation? That seemed missing from this piece . . . .

    • Perhaps the answer, given Miami’s crap soccer history, is don’t even try. If the new solution is send the team back where it folded last time, in a city a chunk of an hour away from actual Miami, what is the point? It also bears noting that Seattle and Atlanta also don’t play in an SSS but are successful…..and one thing people don’t get into on those teams plus NYC and Revs is, since the stadia are owner-owned, it’s basically rent free and debt free. They may be football or baseball stadia, but they aren’t paying rent. Unlike, say, Houston, they are not laden with LBO debt for the entity, stadium construction debt, plus rent to the county for the privilege of letting them own the playpen on paper that the club actually paid for.

    • MLS should have never given Beckham a franchise, let alone a concrete MLS start date until Beckham’s group had an actual stadium permitted amd contracted out.

  5. I’m with you quit whining. It is crazy that an underperforming superstar now has a statue in LA. I feel like dude was all about the hype, and much less interested in football than making his brand bigger, when he came into MLS. Did he respect the league or the paycheck he was getting when he was here? Dude was a great player elsewhere, but it seems like it’s his reputation that got him that statue rather than merit based MLS performance.

  6. I don’t get it. Look up Beckham stats and then ask yourself. Is this statue worthy? The answer is, him getting a statue is mind boggling.
    Second best in the league in assists for one year gets you a statue…that is going to be a lot of statues. Brad Davis at least gets one for best that year and probably about 8-10 other ones.
    NOW, lets hold a team for 10 years for him to pay less than market for this.

  7. They had literally the best team in the East in their lame duck year and they pulled 11k fans. My Dynamo pull 14k spending nothing on payroll. No, this and Austin (and NYCFC before them) are a test of if the league really meant it that they wanted stadium plans. I don’t think they did. My Dynamo came here fleeing SJSU’s stadium only to play in UH’s stadium for half a decade. I’m convinced we only moved when UH demolished the old football stadium and the choice was build or be homeless a year. And Miami you can just double or triple what a stadium concept matters since the fans are kind of disinterested to start with.

      • I shouldn’t say stadium plan for Austin. Austin doesn’t really support pro sports well, in its history, and the AzTex never got above about 3700 fans a game on average, before being moved to Orlando (and then becoming OC in MLS). The Dynamo affiliate Toros average much higher than that down in Edinburg (7k in 2017, 4500 last year), stadium built. SAFC in San Antonio averages 6-8k a year, in a twice as big city, and has a stadium built with room to expand. El Paso got 8k for their franchise opener the other day. It’s maybe the 6th best soccer market in the state, lackluster support for soccer to now, and they got the 3rd MLS team. That is just because an owner wanted it.

        The only teams in the state they outdraw are like lower rung USL, PDL, or NPSL. It’s a college sports town ie UT.

  8. The Miami franchise has been nothing but fiction! Seriously doubt the ownership commitment considering everything is just a notion.

    • I’ve taken it to be similar to C-bus’ old owners moving to Austin. I think on expansion at least in theory the league tries to be smart. Though they don’t universally enforce stadium planning. But if you try and move a team they seem to get very passive and only check what the contracts say. I assume Beckham’s option said nothing about Where. I understand the C-bus purchase said they could move to Austin. In those situations the league seems to retreat to “Whatever floats your boat.” It might be legally fair and MLS may want to avoid going to court, but part of MLS’ success, to me, is many years of growth and little franchise movement and no folding. If the stretch choices of Austin and Miami flop, even if the idea was to passively respect their deals, it will reflect on MLS.

  9. Detroit didn’t get awarded a team because they want to use Ford Field… and it’s fine for Miami to do this? What a joke.


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