The Angle

Gross Negligence: Strikers’ Financial Struggles Deepen While NASL, USSF, and Media Look On

by on 18 November 2016

At the beginning of the summer, FiftyFive.One broke the news that the Fort Lauderdale Strikers were in financial dire straits: paychecks were late, health insurance lapsed, and vendors were going unpaid. The enthusiasm of a new ownership—complete with minority owner Ronaldo—coming in to build the storied club to new heights had begun to dim. After a flurry of tweets, hand-wringing, and jokes about the NASL wanting Division 1 status, the story disappeared.

The Strikers’ financial problems have not gone away, they have only been papered over and kept from sight. With the 2016 season in the rear-view mirror, though, paychecks are late and players have not had health insurance since the end of September. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers are on life-support and no one—the league, the USSF, or the national media—seems to care. A shocking level of negligence has allowed things to come to this point.

In 2015, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers finished the season with an average attendance of 5653. By the end of the 2016 the Strikers were drawing numbers in the three digits, with a low of just 418 people. Even if the original numbers were artificially inflated, this remarkable disappearance of fans and enthusiasm is astounding.

Sources in and around the team indicate that both the team and the league are desperate to keep a lid on the financial disaster of the club. Meanwhile, the actual situation reached a crisis point. One source said that the league stepped in at the end of September to pay players and staff to avoid the club closing up shop during the season. Now that the season is over, those paychecks have dried up.

The club has been actively seeking to sell to new owners, but have already rejected bids that they deem beneath their valuation, which has been estimated by some to be $7-9 million and even as high as $15 million.

The club has been actively seeking to sell to new owners, but have already rejected bids that they deem beneath their valuation, which has been estimated by some to be $7-9 million and even as high as $15 million. The Strikers’ ownership has lost a good deal of money and is apparently anxious to recoup those losses in a sale. According to one source, Managing Director Luis Cuccatti has not taken a paycheck since joining the club and is one of those hoping to find himself on the end of any possible windfall of a sale. Cuccatti, who has reportedly not been seen in the team office lately, did not return a phone call for comment.

To the extent that they have been able, the NASL has taken care of the team by providing some cash to run it during the season. But the league’s resources are thinly stretched. One source indicated that the league seemed powerless to do anything other than put a band-aid on the massive hemorrhage. With the future of Rayo OKC also in serious question and the exits of Tampa Bay and Ottawa, the NASL must fight multiple fires with less help. The league did not return calls asking for comment.

At the federation level, USSF has been reportedly holding talks to try to figure out the future of the lower divisions, but nothing has been said about the individual clubs that are struggling to survive. US Soccer had not returned a call for comment as of publication.

The failing of the Strikers, along with other difficulties across American soccer, in Oklahoma City, Wilmington, Rochester, Austin, and other cities, challenge the steady growth narrative of American soccer’s cheerleaders. More importantly, they each have significant local impacts. Fort Lauderdale fans face a future without their club, while players face a future without knowing where they will work, how they will pay the bills, and how they might confront an unexpected health emergency. These stories deserve greater scrutiny.

However, Fort Lauderdale’s ongoing crisis has unfolded in almost complete media silence, thanks in part to the effort of the league and the club, and the paucity of national and local media coverage of both. That this club has collapsed in the shadows is both a cause and a symptom of its troubles.

As American soccer faces a long winter on several fronts, it remains unclear how the situation in Fort Lauderdale, and across the NASL itself, can be rectified.

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