Few fans, fewer answers
Fusion folds; local soccer leaders blame owner
BY STEPHEN F. HOLDER
The official word Tuesday was the Fusion was eliminated because of poor fan support, but community soccer leaders say there's more to the story.
Although Miami's attendance has ranked near the bottom of Major League Soccer for years, those in local soccer circles blame poor marketing, questionable business decisions and a lack of understanding of local soccer fans for the team's demise.
``The thing that bothers me the most is that [Fusion owner] Ken Horowitz is trying to make it look like this is the community's fault,'' said Eddie Rogers, a local soccer promoter who runs the annual UMBRO Select tournament that showcases college seniors. Rogers is also a friend of former Fusion coach Ray Hudson.
``[Horowitz is] the one that needs to look in the mirror.''
But Horowitz doesn't believe he is to blame.
``There have been a lot of critics of me in recent weeks, and I think it's unfair,'' he said. ``We tried everything we could to keep the team here. But nobody was stepping up for corporate sponsorships; nobody was calling for season tickets. It's very sad, but we just could not keep it going. There were no tangible signs that it was turning around.''
But what Rogers and others reiterated Tuesday was Horowitz wrongly predicted fans would pack Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium solely because pro soccer was being played there.
``They didn't reach out to this community at all,'' said Daniel Alvarez, a member of the ``Afusionados'' Fusion fan club and a local soccer organizer. ``They didn't care about the fans. . . . They thought that as long as they threw a soccer ball out there, people would show up.''
Miami increased its attendance by 49 percent last season to average 11,177 fans, but attendance in its previous three seasons was abysmal. The MLS average is 14,961.
Tom Mulroy, whose company Soccer Marketing and Promotions organizes Copa Latina each year, has followed the Fusion since its inception and said the problems started at the top.
``They made every wrong decision that you could possibly make,''
he said. No Chit Cherlock !!!!
``First of all, [Horowitz] got into a bidding war for the franchise and paid $20 million when everybody else was paying $5 million. He realized very quickly that he would never get his $20 million back. He thought he was going to turn it around and make quick money.''
When that didn't happen, Mulroy said, Horowitz cut corners, particularly when it came to marketing. Mulroy, who played for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers professional soccer club in the 1980s, also said the club's management did not understand the dynamics of South Florida soccer.
``The visibility was so poor,'' Mulroy said. ``Other sports teams down here didn't even look at the Fusion as a threat. They just looked at them as a bunch of bozos tripping over themselves.''
Miami finished the 2001 season at 16-5-5, losing 1-0 in overtime to the San Jose Earthquakes to fail to advance to the MLS Cup championship. But fan support was lacking in the first few years, when the team was not as competitive. The Fusion was 15-17 in 1998, 13-19 in 1999 and 12-15-5 in 2000, and the feeling is little was done to upgrade the team before last season.
Regardless, the loss of the Fusion leaves many in the community disheartened. Among them is Florida International University men's soccer coach Karl Kremser. Two of his former players -- Tyrone Marshall and Jeff Cassar -- played for the Fusion.
``This is the worst-case scenario,'' Kremser said. ``Soccer is growing in America, but it hasn't translated into the professional leagues. I hope this is not an omen of what is going to happen to the league down the road.''
Tpa Bay and Miami gone today....The rest will follow soon !!!