Florida’s Soccer Craze

By Steven A. Thompson

In early 2014, scores of fans jammed the Jacksonville Landing to watch the United States defeat Ghana for a 2-1 World Cup win. Months later, On June 7, 2014, approximately 52,000 electrified fans filled Jacksonville’s Everbank Field to watch the United States men’s national team defeat Nigeria 2-1.

In Northeast Florida, both the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Jacksonville Suns draw a sizeable fanbase, but now the fanbase in support of soccer is growing by leaps and bounds. In an article by the Associated Press entitled, “Jacksonville fans celebrate US 2-1 World Cup win over Ghana,” Ben Whitley said, “I definitely think it’s a growing sport and gaining popularity especially here in Jacksonville.”

As a result of the growing interest in soccer on the First Coast, the Jacksonville Armada Football Club (FC) was born. The Armada FC began playing April 2015, in the North American Soccer League (NASL) at the Baseball Grounds in Jacksonville.

The NASL is the second level in professional soccer in the United States behind Major League Soccer (MLS). There are 11 franchises in the United States and two in Canada.

Florida proudly operates three of the 11 U.S. franchises; the Jacksonville Armada, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, and the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Mark Frisch is the Armada FC owner and is the executive vice president of the popular Beaver Street Fisheries in Jacksonville. Frisch is hopeful that a growing interest in soccer in Jacksonville will ignite interest throughout the state of Florida.

According to team statistics, the Armada’s opening day attendance in 2015 was 16,164, and the Strikers was 11,691–the Rowdies attendance was 4,000 more than in 2014. As a result of the growing interest Floridians have in the sport, Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville have all entered bids to host the Copa America Centenario games in 2016.

“Sunday’s FIFA Women’s World Cup final drew record U.S. T.V. ratings that are similar to the decisive game 6 of last month’s NBA finals. Telemundo reported that according to Nielsen, its Spanish U.S. broadcast of the game recorded 1.27 million television viewers.” National Public Radio contributor Bill Chappel said.

Fox released a preliminary report the following Monday, that stated Sunday night’s game broke viewing records for soccer played in the United States by men and women. “I felt an incredible sense of pride as I watched the American team walk across the platform to receive their medals,” said Sherie Smith, a soccer fanatic from Jacksonville.

“I never watched a soccer match before Sunday. Initially, I only watched because my family was watching. I enjoyed the game and I intend to support Jacksonville’s new professional team, the Armada FC,” longtime Jacksonville resident Mary Jackson said.

According to state statistics, Florida has a sunshine rate of between 2,400 and 3,200 hours annually–and has certainly earned the nickname “Sunshine State.” It will be exciting to see how many soccer teams gravitate to this oasis in the sun.
Photo by: Logan Bowles

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