Fort Lauderdale – Football fandom has soared in Fort Lauderdale this year, with thousands of fans eagerly converging on DRV PNK Stadium to cheer on Inter Miami CF, the football club co-owned by the mega-star David Beckham.
One match alone drew nearly 16,000 spectators in February – close to having a packed house.
Should Inter Miami CF be renamed Inter Fort Lauderdale? Three years after Inter Miami CF’s inaugural kickoff, the strong attendance at DRV PNK Stadium has only solidified support for the team to call Fort Lauderdale their one and only home.
Now the football club faces the next round of crucial talks over its future location. Miami commissioners plan next week to review and possibly vote on a no-bid 99-year lease proposal that would put Beckham and his partners, businessmen Jorge and Jose Mas, on the path to building a 25,000 seat stadium near Miami International Airport. .
If there is no deal, could Fort Lauderdale become the permanent home of Inter Miami? Heather Moraitis, the commissioner for the city of Fort Lauderdale whose district includes the current stadium, said she would accept the team as permanent residents.
“From my perspective, we would 100% welcome Inter Miami if the Miami deal fails,” she said. “We would be honored to be the franchise’s playground.”
In addition to the planned football stadium near Miami International Airport, the enclave that now houses a golf course would include a hotel, shopping mall, technology hub and public green space.
But as with many things ruled by Miami’s bare-knuckle local politics, the deal is far from a certainty. The five city commissioners – approval of four is required – would not all be on board.
And this week, documentary filmmaker Billy Corben showed up with a short video to tear up the plan as a “mess” and “real estate fuss.” He even recruited former Miami Marlins president David Samson, who helped his boss, former Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, build a baseball stadium at local taxpayers’ expense, to oppose the soccer deal.
In an interview with the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Corben suggested that it’s hard to believe that major corporate-backed sports franchises will deliver on their promises to the communities where they seek to reside.
“We’ve been waiting 26 years for a park that the Miami Heat promised us right next to the Miami Heat arena,” he said, referring to the NBA team’s home in downtown Miami.
Corben claimed that Inter Miami’s plan for the club’s proposed Freedom Park development near the airport “has nothing to do with football” and more to do with expansive real estate development.
“At best, the football stadium is a loss leader,” he argued. “I feel bad for Beckham because football is his life’s work. His motives were pure when he came here. He seems like quite a lovely guy.
No representatives of Inter Miami or Major League Soccer responded to requests for comment emailed Thursday.
While discussing the upcoming MLS 2022 season with reporters in February, Beckham suggested he lacked patience with his side’s on-field development, as well as the pace of finding a site for a permanent home. at Miami.
But Jorge Mas, the club’s CEO and owner manager, said he and his colleagues were “really looking forward to doing the hardest part, which is building a stadium that I think will be transformative for Miami”, according to Reuters.
Mas welcomed the approach of a March 9 hearing date with the commission. But this meeting has been postponed – for a fourth reported time – in favor of a meeting now set for next Thursday.
It’s not immediately clear how much leeway the league gives Inter Miami to continue playing in Fort Lauderdale.
This year many fans have flocked to the stadium to watch a team still trying to make their mark.
In seven matches, Inter Miami have struggled on the field again this year, compiling a 2-4-1 record, good for a modest 13th place in a 14-team Eastern Conference, according to league standings. .
Nevertheless, thousands of fans descend on the stadium to watch. For the home opener, a scoreless draw against the Chicago Fire in late February, 15,973 people showed up, according to the league’s website. The stadium has a capacity of 19,100 seats.
Since then, the team has played in front of a range of 11,400 to more than 13,000 spectators in three home games in March and early April, according to league figures.
Fans in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties don’t need to drive to the games. Tri-Rail maintains a nearby station on Cypress Creek Road. And Brightline operates a shuttle service called GOOOL Getter between its downtown Fort Lauderdale station and the stadium.
“They have a tremendous fanbase,” said Fort Lauderdale City Manager Chris Lagerbloom. “Their fans are loyal and they are committed. Their team made some changes. They are exciting to watch and they will understand. Without a doubt.”
But at the end of 2018, Inter Miami had nowhere to play and only a few months to find a place before his team was due to step onto the pitch for the first time.
Towards the end of that year, Broward County became a fallback as the team and Miami officials failed to settle into proposed sites in downtown. One included a waterfront space near the American Airlines Arena, now FTX Arena, home of the Miami Heat. A site in the Overtown section of the city also failed.
“There was a huge sense of urgency,” Moraitis recalls. “We reached this agreement in six months. It was super fast.
Miami Beckham United, one of the superstar’s companies, has signed an agreement with Fort Lauderdale to replace the city-owned Lockhart Stadium with a new stadium, team headquarters and entertainment center. coaching. The agreement also provided that the club would use the site just east of Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport for 50 years, rent-free.
The neighborhood is no stranger to sporting events.
To make way for the football stadium, demolition crews in 2019 destroyed Lockhart Stadium, once used by former professional football teams as well as local high school and college football teams. To the north, a baseball stadium used for years by the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles for spring training also collapsed.
The two old stadiums were replaced with a well-appointed venue now known as the DRV PNK Stadium. The brand emerged under a naming rights deal with AutoNation to help promote the company’s Drive Pink initiative, which raises funds for cancer research and treatment.
Inter Miami’s headquarters and training facilities are in a newly constructed building to the north of the new stadium. The club also built a football field for Fort Lauderdale and Stranahan high schools, as well as community football fields.
Regardless of what happens in Miami, Fort Lauderdale was expected to remain the team’s training center, with the equivalent of a minor league farm team calling the stadium home, youth academy and clinics football, as well as the administrative offices of Inter Miami, according to city officials. .
But for the team’s local moves to a new stadium in Miami to play its home games, Inter Miami’s business and training operations would still be anchored in Fort Lauderdale, Lagerbloom said.
“The team would be here but for the days they go to Miami,” he said. “We would see just as many training activities in the [Fort Lauderdale] complex.”
He added that the stadium “was always intended to be the home of Inter Miami 2”, the minor league club.
But Moraitis noted that something was still missing: a 20-acre park south of the stadium that was part of Inter Miami’s deal with the city. The agreement calls for it to be built by July this year.
“I haven’t heard anything from Inter Miami saying the park isn’t going to happen,” she said. “I still don’t know what the future of the 20-acre parcel will be. Maybe they’re waiting for the [Miami] vote.”