"A Club For All, In Club Para Todos"
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Good morning everybody! Fall has come roaring in this past week, hasn't it? Enough chit chat, though, this weeks interview is a long one but a good one. Well, all interviews here are pretty long come to think about.
I got to interview the brains behind Gold Coast Inter AFC a few weeks back about what exactly they're doing to bring a United Soccer League team to South Florida, get involved with the process of creating Major League Soccer's Miami franchise, while bringing a whole new level of fan ownership and involvement to both leagues. And they got Thomas Rongen to come along for the ride. Check it out.
,Tell me about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with Gold Coast Inter AFC.
My name is Christian Franek, and I am one of the co-founders of @InterMiamiST, a non-profit supporters trust established to help bring D-1 soccer to South Florida that is, hopefully, at least partially owned by the fans. We can accomplish fan ownership by convincing the private ownership group of how much value there is in names/designs/branding established, voted on, and owned by fans, but licensed to the ownership group & MLS, so the trust can turn around and re-invest that licensing fee back in the fans and community and even the team.
I personally have lived and worked all over South Florida, from downtown Miami to now living in Lake Worth, FL, which is in Palm Beach County. But INTER MIAMI SUPPORTERS TRUST has members and followers from Overtown to New York to San Francisco, even around the world. That's part of the beauty of the "INTER" name and "A Club For All, In Club Para Todos" motto. This will be MLS & USL offering a club/team/franchise that not only embraces and promotes fan ownership, but embraces and promotes it for fans around the world.
So Gold Coast INTER AFC is an idea rattling around INTER MIAMI SUPPORTERS TRUST's members brains for quite a while. And I've been up in Palm Beach County for almost a year now, but had not really pursued organizing USL up this way until recently, when a convergence of realizations kind of occurred. First, Miami Beckham United has gone radio silent on MLS MIAMI with supporters organizations in South Florida and it appears they are currently stuck in neutral for what could be one or many reasons, and getting USL started first, with much lower financial and organizational commitment, could be a great opportunity to build momentum, if not a stadium in Overtown at the moment; Second, it became more and more apparent that Palm Beach County and it's many soccer fans (which consistently rank Top 5 in watching soccer on TV) are significantly under-served; and third, legendary coach Thomas Rongen, took notice of the idea on social media and started interacting with us, leading to his commitment to lead a team if we can make it happen. So now, we are in the process of making it happen, we hope.
Long and short, my role on behalf of INTER MIAMI SUPPORTERS TRUST is to advance both projects as far along as possible, in hopes that Fan Ownership (already existing in USL with Sounders 2) can be an important part of founding MLS & USL in South Florida, so that it will truly be a club of the people, by the people, and for the people. Plus, we'll ALWAYS own our identity and brand, regardless of who owns our team at any particular time or if that owner decides to sell or move. The name, some of the designs, brand, and our identity will belong to our community, our people.
You're definitely taking the bull by the horns here. How have potential fans and supporters in South Florida responded to this idea? It is pretty well embraced, or do you have to overcome a lot of resistance?
It is pretty mixed. The idea is a fairly novel approach to a soccer topic that many thought could not be accomplished, that so far is embraced by many locally, but just as interestingly across the country and even around the world. We've been talking with groups in Europe & South America (@SuppDirect & @FanVoxCo mostly so far) about our mission, and they are very interested in how trademark and/or copyright ownership by fans being licensed to private owners might work. However, as with any new approach to an old problem, if you want to frame it like that, you always get knee jerk responses from some who think such an option is impossible or unworkable, mostly because it has never been attempted or done that way before. For those that actually read into it and think about what we are doing, they get it.
For those that read just a headline and already have their minds made up, they typically have pretty uneducated and sometimes snarky response. But we focus on the ultimate goals, not any distractions. If someone sincerely wants to know how this will work, and especially how they can help, it is a pleasure to discuss further and we welcome them aboard. Unfortunately, some involved with other teams in the area, and more unfortunately even a few involved with trying to bring MLS here as well, feel or felt threatened by our organization and/or ideas and approach to putting fans first when we initially started. One guy has even attempted to infringe on the trademark "INTER MIAMI™", owned by the fans, and make money off of the trademark by selling shirts with the name online, taking money away from our community non-profit. It's disappointing and frustrating, but again, eyes on the big prize, as we continue doing what we for the right reasons. The fans and our community,
If we have to, we'll address this down the road, but we are hoping they come to their senses beforehand. Selling our trademark, INTER MIAMI™, could get really expensive for any infringers, but we prefer to settle things much more amicably.
But, one thing it does show, is just how popular and marketable INTER MIAMI™ is, and how valuable it would be for the owner-operators, league, fans, and community to all share in the names use. If the name did not have value, you can bet most of the people opposing INTER MIAMI™ & INTER MIAMI™ SUPPORTERS TRUST wouldn't be coming out of the woodwork to attack us or steal our name(s) or concepts.
As far as GOLD COAST INTER™, it still seems new enough to have so far avoided most of these types of criticisms. I'm sure there are some out there, but probably most come from lack of research and/or willingness to understand what we are doing, and especially who we are doing it for.
Supporters Direct are solid. We really need something like them here in the US. Lets talk about Gold Coast Inter. This may be a softball question, but it'll be a good recap or pitch of what you're doing. What is the mission and goal behind Gold Coast Inter?
Totally agree, American Soccer is desperate for our own Supporters Direct, to help fans and clubs/teams, and leagues and federation's, get on same page of working together towards common goals. Initially, as I think it will be very evolutionary, GOLD COAST INTER™ has a mission to get organized, and make getting it started in and for serving the people and fans of South Florida a no-brainer. Fans are frustrated with MLS MIAMI and have become very skeptical of all involved. Starting the USL Team, which MBU have the rights to the South Florida market (no one else is allowed to start USL here currently) will go a long way to showing leadership's and MLS/USL's commitment to soccer fans who are hungry to have those top level options.
Then, taking it a step further and adopting the names, colors, designs, branding, and identity of the teams, as decided and owned by the fans, thus providing a form of fan ownership, would engage the South Florida Soccer community in a way no other club/team in the world has, and unlocking the enormous potential of the market regionally and globally would be unprecedented, especially for an American league team/franchise. It's a win for the league, a win for team, a win for owners & fans & the community.
We can do it if people involved in this all the way can embrace the vision and realize the benefits, and we can all work together toward this common goal of making MLS and USL soccer in South Florida the best it can be, the best in the world. We've currently, in the last week, reached out to several members of MBU regarding our GOLD COAST INTER project, who we've communicated with in the past. We are awaiting a response. We'll see.
Have you explored what it would take on your end to get the team in the USL, or is that pretty much all in the hands of MBU?
Initially, we want to pursue the path of least resistance, so since we approached MBU with this only a few days ago, we'll give them some to digest, consider, and respond. But, if nothing comes of that, then certainly we will look at alternatives. One thing for sure, the fans seem ready for something to happen in the largest MLS/USL untapped soccer market that consistently ranks Top 5 in soccer-on-TV-watching. The USL option, with GOLD COAST INTER™ provides an opportunity to start mining that South Florida Soccer gold, while embracing local fans, fan investment, and fan ownership.
We spoke with USL a couple of years ago. In a nutshell, they explained this market belongs to whoever has rights to MLS MIAMI. And for now, that is MBU, according to them.
Interesting. What do you think of that? Wouldn't it make more sense for USL to let a team in now and start prepping the market? Giving an MLS team exclusive rights over an entire territory to start a team in another league seems really counter productive to me.
"Making sense" doesn't happen enough in American soccer because the focus is on geographical operational rights/restrictions too much in situations like this. Obviously, the relationship and agreement between MLS and USL somewhat artificially restricts the natural evolution of a USL club/team in a "MLS market", but guess there are options outside of USL/MLS. From a trying to promote D-1 approach however, markets are restricted currently, fair or unfair.
Understood. Might not be the best solution, but it's what's in place right now. Ideally, what would need to happen to clear the road, so to speak, for this to be a smoother, easier process?
Ideally, Miami Beckham United get back to us a soon as possible to confirm they are ready to move forward and want fan's input and ideas on creating and developing the USL team, including hiring fan favorite Thomas Rongen to lead the charge and want to adopt the names and colors that the fans voted for and have rights to via INTER MIAMI SUPPORTERS TRUST, thus creating South Florida's first ever fan-owned team!
Then, either they or us, but most likely MBU, can hammer out details of use of FAU Stadium and officially joining USL, while Coach Rongen schedules tryouts. And we can focus on fan and community engagement/investment. Could all be done fairly quickly, would think.
You'd sure think so. What kind of things have you had fans vote on so far for the USL side of things?
1) If USL should be started now, if possible.
3) Who first manager should be.
4) Name of team.
And we will do more polls. We think/hope it keeps fans engaged and assures them that their opinions & input matter. Fans have a much Bette perspective than some give them credit for.
That's true. Fans are the heart beat of any team, and they know what they want more then anyone else. Now what's the story behind Thomas Rongen getting involved with the Supporters Trust?
Rongen may be the coolest guy in soccer these days. Loads of experience and experiences, all over the world and in different, impressive capacities. Totally friendly, approachable, and willing to give of his time, knowledge, and passion. If anyone out there has not yet seen "Next Goal Wins", about him coaching American Samoa in their improbable attempts to qualify for World Cup, highly recommend it.
Anyway, he lives here locally and apparently enjoys using Twitter quite a bit and is friendly in responding. So after mentioning him in tweets enough times, we just seemed to have come to an agreement that if we can get this USL team going, he will coach it. He's been providing input and re-tweeting ideas ever since. A lot of fun, and no major pressure, as we want this to be a somewhat organic effort to bring something to South Florida that people want and will appreciate.
He does seem like a cool dude. Lets change things up a little bit. You've got a lot of teams around you. Amateur NPSL and PDL teams, the APSL, and Fort Lauderdale and Miami FC. What's the soccer scene in Miami like right now?
In Miami, the scene is crowded, because there are so many amateur leagues and teams that pull in crowds as big as those teams in D-4 or D-5. So teams like @MiamiUnitedFC (NPSL), @TheMiamiFusion (NPSL), @FCMiamiCity (USL PDL) are constantly competing against these much less organized leagues and teams that are much more Central & South American focused, for fans and interest and of course money. That said, it looks like @TheMiamiFC, new kid on the NASL & South Florida block, is really setting itself apart rather quickly, thanks in large part to their much deeper pockets than other teams in South Florida. They are very experienced, educated, and their nuanced approach to the market shows they obviously studied well. They've done well, all things considered. But questions remain about how well they can do for how long, and what kind of effect MLS will have on them once started, and how loyal most of their fans will be once offered a D-1 option.
As for Broward County, just north of Miami-Dade, that is still pretty entrenched with @FTLStrikers fans. Strikers are a bit of a roller coaster with owners, stadiums, management, player turnover and very hot or cold fans (mostly cold lately), but they moved into a new home that is much newer, much closer to downtown,and much more inviting to those with disposable income in Fort Lauderdale and the surrounding area. It can be much more fan and family friendly, if done right. With their history and being in D-2 NASL forever it seems like, they have the Broward market and it's roughly 2 million people locked down. Their Brasilian owners just need to do a better job of understanding the local market.
Last but not least, Palm Beach County, just north of Broward County, probably currently holds the most untapped potential for any new pro soccer effort outside of downtown Miami. With a population of 1.5 million, consistent TV ranking in Top 5 for the country for watching soccer, and only two teams of note so far, 5th Division @BocaRatonFC (@APSL_Soccer) in the South and 4th Division @PBSUNSFC (@USLPDL) more north around West Palm (I think), timing could be just right for introducing a D-3 product, playing in what is a really nice soccer venue, that belongs to the fans, people, and community of Palm Beach County, while having ties to a much bigger program that has an @MLS team playing roughly an hour and half to two hours south in Miami. Could definitely see fans and family making weekend matches a big outing. With already committed transit expansion to just a few blocks away from the stadium site and entertainment & restaurant options popping up downtown everywhere, the #1Train2Game motto will be loud and clear all over South Florida.
If we can create real interest in the larger program, by making Gold Coast INTER into Palm Beaches' team, the connection between Miami and Palm Beach County will be a real "Golden" opportunity, and all of South Florida can be a part of this and can take pride in it.
You ready for some more rapid fire questions to start wrapping this up? I want to be respectful of your time.
Sounds good. What is your favorite league and or team to watch?
Me personally, first professional match was Miami Fusion back in 1997, when they first started, when a couple other St. Thomas University Law School classmates, Jonathan Mayes & Kevin Tierney, and I were thirsty for a taste of good pro soccer. Unfortunately, it was not particularly good at that time.
Also took in my first ever USMNT match in Miami Dolphins' Joe Robbie Stadium, against Netherlands, in 1998. But I did not really jump into consistent watching fandom until that same Jon Mayes convinced me that the Premiership was everything we wanted to see and be a part of back at that Miami Fusion match. So starting with the FulhAmericans back in 2003/2004, I made a commitment and have been a fan through thick and thin ever since. Went to many more USMNT matches after my first taste too, starting with their send off loss in Nashville that was unfortunately a sign of things to come at WC 2006. Then my club interests expanded to Celtic, so I would have a Champions League team to root for, which I love their history, pride, scrappiness, and general respect throughout the world. I follow and root for several other teams from Germany to Brasil over these years, including watching matches live in-person or on TV for regional South Florida teams in NASL, NPSL, USL PDL, APSL, etc., but none that I've felt a deep connection with yet. I think that may be the same for many others in South Florida, who either want the top division of American soccer nearby in Miami and/or their own pro soccer team right here in Palm Beach County.
If we can get GOLD COAST INTER going soon, that will definitely be my next big commitment to making them my team, especially if we can make fan ownership a intricate part of its existence. Then with MLS (INTER) MIAMI to follow, South Florida would have the best of both USL & MLS world's, sharing a common INTER & fan ownership thread we hope!
Who are your favorite players, one past, one present?
Favorite past player is tough, so many good ones, but think I'll go with Garrincha of Brasil. First time I saw highlights of him, I was just amazed. He'd be just difficult to defend now as back when he was alive and in his prime. Gerd Müller would be 2nd for his effectiveness and efficiency, without much hype, throughout his playing career.
Favorite on field today. Ronaldinho still plays some of the most attractive footy anywhere. CR7 is the most powerful and efficient. Zlatan is the most impactful and singularly effective player of his generation. All good choices. Off the pitch, Eric Wynalda is one of the best, along with Thomas Rongen and the late Johan Cruyff. Straight shooters, no sugar coating, and they all accomplished and are accomplish GREAT, if not GREATER, things off the pitch as they did on it.
Do you have books, soccer related or otherwise, that you would recommend to people?
Interesting question, but definitely. Daniel Coyle's "The Talent Code" is an inspiring investigation into how "deep practice" or "deliberate practice" or "high leverage practice", where a person becomes somewhat hyper-focused and neurons in the brain fire at a higher rate, is a huge factor in achievement at just about anything, but especially sports. He describes its effect on things like playing musical instruments or Brazil's long time achievement in global football.
Every coach, many parents, and players of a certain age who want to achieve and excel should all read that book.
Not books, but I love soccer history, so I highly recommend to anyone who wants to learn about the fundamental roots of our sport that they watch the 6 or 7 video collection, "History of Soccer", perfectly narrated by Terrence Stamp. Also, "Once In A Lifetime" is really a great insight as to how quickly Americans can and did screw up the world's game by insisting on Americanizing and monetizing everything.
Meanwhile, two Americans, Rebekah Fergusson & Luke Boughen, travel the world chasing pick-up soccer and international pick-up soccer player interaction that others can only dream of in a delightful documentary called "[pelada]".
And finally, if the inspiration provided by American Samoa as they went from being ranked one of the worst teams in the world to legitimate threats to qualify for the World Cup, could be bottled, someone would be an instant trillionaire. Anyone wants to get a snapshot of what Thomas Rongen is about and why he is one of the best, although he has accomplished much more in his lifetime so far, should watch "Next Goal Wins".
Interesting. Would you rather attend a World Cup or the Euros?
World Cup all the way.
What would you like to say to the people reading this about why they should not only get out there and support their local teams, but also support teams trying to get off the ground?
We are still an exceptionally young, and really quite naive, soccer nation. If fans really want the game to serve our players, our coaches, our clubs, even our country, and certainly our fans, then the fans have to be involved as much as possible. Expecting businessmen who have really only one agenda, the financial bottom line, to ensure our sport sticks to the ideals and goals that were established when "football" was created, is not reality. If fans want sporting merit, practice, determination, competition, and achievement to improve and be rewarded (or penalized, if lacking) throughout our soccer landscape, from players to clubs to leagues to national teams, then fans MUST be involved in and have a real investment and say in how their community's players and teams, from the youth to professional levels, are run. I want fans & communities to always feel like they are a part of a team, a club and an organization. Give them a piece of it to show your investment in them, and they will invest back ten-fold. Support fan ownership, and check out @FOAlliance @USAssocFC @USAssocFF.
That's a great close. Christian, thanks again for taking the time to do this interview, I really appreciate it. Remember, if you are enjoying the weekly content coming out on AP you can click here to Follow AP on Twitter, or here to Like AP on Facebook. The easiest way to make sure you never miss an interview, and get to read interviews before everyone, click here and sign up for the Newsletter. You'll be the first to know when articles are released and learn about other exciting content down the road. Make sure to spread the word by sharing these interviews, telling friends about the blog, those kind of things. AP can't accomplish the goal of maximum exposure for all levels of the American Soccer Pyramid without YOU. Until next time, Stay Loyal, Support Local.