Fort Lauderdale — Soccer 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 soccer club co-owned by mega-star David Beckham.
One game alone drew nearly 16,000 spectators in February — close to having a fully packed venue.
Should Inter Miami CF be renamed to Inter Fort Lauderdale? Three years after Inter Miami CF’s inaugural kickoff, the strong turnout at DRV PNK Stadium only has bolstered support for the team to call Fort Lauderdale its one and only home.
Now, the soccer club faces the next set of crucial discussions about its future location. Miami commissioners next week plan to consider and possibly vote on a proposed 99-year, no-bid lease that would place Beckham and his partners, businessmen Jorge and Jose Mas, on the road to building a 25,000-seat stadium near the Miami International Airport.
If there is no deal, could Fort Lauderdale become the permanent home of the Inter Miami? Heather Moraitis, the Fort Lauderdale city commissioner whose district includes the current stadium, said she would embrace the team as a permanent resident.
“From my perspective we would 100% welcome Inter Miami if the Miami deal falls through,” she said. “We would be honored to be the home field for the franchise.”
Besides the planned soccer stadium near Miami International Airport, the enclave that is now home to a golf course would include a hotel, shopping center, tech hub and public green space.
But as with many things that are steered by Miami’s bare-knuckled local politics, the deal is far from a certainty. Not all of the city’s five commissioners —approval from four is required — are said to be on board.
And this week, documentary filmmaker Billy Corben checked in with a short video to rip the plan as a “boondoggle” and “real estate hustle.” He even drafted former Miami Marlins president David Samson, who helped his boss, former Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, build a baseball stadium at huge local taxpayer expense, to chime in against the soccer deal.
In an interview with the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Corben suggested it’s hard to trust that big corporate-backed sports franchises will follow through on their promises to the communities where they seek to reside.
“We’ve been waiting for a park the Miami Heat promised us for 26 years right next to the Miami Heat arena,” he said, referring to the NBA team’s home venue in downtown Miami.
Corben asserted the Inter Miami plan for the club’s proposed Freedom Park development near the airport “has nothing to do with soccer” and more to do with expansive real estate development.
“At best the soccer stadium is a loss leader,” he contended. “I feel bad for Beckham because soccer is his life’s work. His motives were pure when he came here. He seems like a lovely enough guy.”
No representatives of Inter Miami or Major League Soccer responded to emailed requests for comment Thursday.
While discussing the then-forthcoming 2022 MLS season with reporters in February, Beckham suggested he was running short of patience with his team’s on-field development, as well as with the pace of finding a site for a permanent Miami home.
But Jorge Mas, the club’s CEO and managing owner, said he and his colleagues are “really looking forward to doing the hard part, which is building a stadium that I think will be transformational for Miami,” according to Reuters.
Mas lauded the approach of a March 9 hearing date with the commission. But that meeting was postponed — for a reported fourth time — in favor of a meeting now set for next Thursday.
It is not immediately clear how much leeway the league is giving Inter Miami to keep playing in Fort Lauderdale.
This year, lots of fans have streamed into the stadium to watch a team that is still trying to make its mark.
Through seven matches, Inter Miami has again struggled on the field this year, compiling a record of 2-4-1, good for a lowly 13th place in a 14-team Eastern Conference, according to league standings.
Nonetheless, thousands of fans are descending on the stadium to watch. For the home opener, a scoreless draw against the Chicago Fire in late February, 15,973 people showed up, the league’s website shows. The stadium has a capacity of 19,100.
Since then, the team has performed before 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 from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties don’t need to drive to travel 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 fan base,” said Fort Lauderdale City Manager Chris Lagerbloom. “Their fans are loyal and they’re committed. Their team has made some changes. They’re exciting to watch and they’ll figure it out. No doubt.”
But in late 2018, Inter Miami had nowhere to play and just months to find a place before its team had to take the field for the first time.
Toward the end of that year, Broward County became a fallback as the team and Miami officials failed to settle on proposed downtown area sites. One included a waterfront space near the American Airlines Arena, now FTX Arena, home to the Miami Heat. A site in the city’s Overtown section also fell through.
“There was a huge sense of urgency,” Moraitis recalls. “We made this deal happen within six months. It was super quick.”
Miami Beckham United, one of the superstar’s companies, signed an agreement with Fort Lauderdale so it could replace the city-owned Lockhart Stadium with a new stadium, a team headquarters and a training facility. The agreement also called for the club to 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 soccer stadium, demolition crews in 2019 took down Lockhart Stadium, formerly used by previous pro soccer outfits as well as by 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 crumbled.
The two old stadiums were replaced by a well-appointed venue now known as DRV PNK Stadium. The brand emerged in a naming-rights deal with AutoNation to help promote the company’s Drive Pink initiative, which raises money 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 soccer fields for the community.
Regardless of what happens in Miami, Fort Lauderdale was to remain the team’s training hub, with the equivalent of a minor league farm team calling the stadium home, youth academy, and soccer clinics, as well as Inter Miami’s administrative offices, according to city officials.
But for the team’s local travels to a new Miami stadium to play its home games, Inter Miami’s business and training operations still would be anchored in Fort Lauderdale, Lagerbloom said.
“The team would be here but for the days it travels to Miami,” he said. “We would see just as much training activity at the [Fort Lauderdale] complex.”
He added that the stadium “was always intended to be the home for Inter Miami 2,” the minor league club.
But Moraitis noted there’s something still missing: a 20-acre park to the 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 of this year.
“I haven’t heard anything from Inter Miami that the park won’t happen,” she said. “I’m still not certain what the future of the 20-acre parcel will be. Maybe they are waiting on the [Miami] vote.”