Q & A with Tim Robbie, President of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers
The year 2011 was a good one for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. The Traffic Sports-owned team, which originally started out as Miami FC in 2006, rebranded last year as the born-again Strikers with a new logo and uniforms to boot. Traffic pushed more money toward the organization than it ever had in the past with stepped up marketing and better players. The team finished 5th in the league standings but made it to the NASL Championship series where they lost to Minnesota. In the process the Strikers drew an average of 3,769. Excluding the MLS-bound Montreal Impact, it was a league-high attendance number and well over triple of what Miami FC drew in their 4 previous years.
Many both inside and outside the Strikers organization give credit to Tim Robbie for much of the team’s 2011 success. Robbie is a name known to South Floridians for the time spent with the original Strikers when his father owned the team. It took Traffic’s Aaron Davidson a while to convince Robbie to come aboard with the new NASL and the Strikers. But once he did, Robbie threw himself into the team and the league.
But this offseason hasn’t been without its challenges for Robbie. The FAA, who owns the property that the Strikers home stadium, Lockhart, sits on, is once again this year playing hardball with the city of Fort Lauderdale and the team. Changes have also occurred in the Strikers front office as Traffic USA has separated themselves from the organization. There have also been plenty of rumors of an impending sale of the team with reliable sources telling IMS that a large English Financial corporation is interested in the Strikers.
IMS talked to Robbie on Monday afternoon so that he could clarify the ongoing situations with the Strikers this offseason.
Interview after the jump —>
IMS: Tim, it seems a lot has been happening with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers this off season. First off I’m hearing a deal to keep the team at Lockhart this season may be done? I heard you dealt with issues again this offseason with the FAA who owns the property the Stadium sits on. Can you give us an update on the proposed Schlitterbahn water park and the Strikers’ status for using Lockhart this season?
Tim Robbie: We are working with the city of Fort Lauderdale toward an agreement that would allow the Strikers to remain at Lockhart Stadium for the upcoming season. Obviously we’d like to do a longer term deal but at this point the Federal Aviation Administration who owns the land on which Lockhart sits are unwilling to go more than a year at a time because of the ongoing negotiations with Schlitterbahn, the water park developer, to purchase the property.
We are very excited about staying at Lockhart for the upcoming season. There was a period of time in the offseason that I really didn’t think this was going to happen because of the hard line position that the FAA was taking in what sort of rent they were looking for. They did soften their stance and we are very optimistic now that we are going to be able to work it out. It’s not one-hundred percent at this point but I’d put it in the area of ninety to ninety-five percent. Of course there is no deal until everything is approved by the city commission which we have to wait for. But for all intents and purposes I’m confident in saying we will be playing at Lockhart in 2012. Beyond 2012 and regardless of whether the Schlitterbahn gets done, I’m confident the Strikers will find a way to remain at Lockhart Stadium.
IMS: I was just informed by Edmonton last week that the league told them they must have a venue announced for certain by February 15th. Do you have that deadline as well?
Tim Robbie: The best way to answer that is to say it’s one thing to have an agreement in principle and it’s another to go through the political process to get approval from the Fort Lauderdale City Commission. The approval process in our mind is just a rubber stamp type approval because the city staff is recommending the agreement and there’s nothing unusual about the agreement and the commission will certainly vote in favor of it. This is why I said it’s a ninety-five percent chance. You can’t say it’s a done deal but at the same time all the documentation is being put together for approval and we anticipate that will be done.
IMS: Would the school district still be running the property or would the Strikers be taking over that job?
Tim Robbie: That’s one of the things that we are really excited about. We are probably going to be moving into a position of operating the facility as well as playing there for the upcoming year. The school board will not be returning to operate Lockhart and so we are looking to step in and do so ourselves which is something that I think is good for the franchise, to be in that situation.
IMS: That’s pretty big. Do you foresee bringing in other events to Lockhart and would the school district still be using the facility?
Tim Robbie: Yes, we do plan on having other events at the facility including an international soccer event, and high school football events if they would like to.
IMS: The relationship between Traffic and Miami FC and then the Strikers has always been very close. You actually shared offices for a while but that started changing a year ago with Traffic moving to a different office. From what I understand more personnel were moved after the NASL season last fall. Now I’m hearing the former Ft. Lauderdale GM, Luiz Muzzi and NASL Technical Director Fernando Clavijo, both Traffic employees, are no longer involved with the Strikers but are helping out in Carolina with the RailHawks. Can you explain this shift away from Fort Lauderdale and what’s been happening?
Tim Robbie: Well, you’re on the right track until the very end there. They haven’t moved on to Carolina. What has happened is the Traffic ownership of the Strikers is still in place. Traffic as you know also owns the Carolina and Atlanta franchises. Luiz Muzzi and Fernando Clavijo are now full-time Traffic employees. Their job is to locate player talent for Traffic. So any of the Traffic clubs can utilize them in the same fashion. I think anyone, whether a Traffic club or a non-Traffic club, could use the services of Muzzi and Clavijo. The Strikers and Traffic are more separate entities than they have been in the past.
IMS: It seems the Strikers will have more independence this season with you running things from the business side and Coach Shore in charge of the player side. But those signings seem to be a bit slow this season and you have lost some key players from last season. I’m hearing some frustration from the fans down in South Florida. What can you tell them about this process?
Tim Robbie: I think it’s normal at this level to have turnover on your roster. It’s certainly nothing unusual. When putting together a team at this level there’s a lot of moving parts. We currently have four players, Matt Glaser, Lance Laing, Scott Gordon and Patrick Otte, all in MLS camps right now, obviously trying to move up and play for MLS teams. Walter Restrepo was also in a camp but he’s already been told he is not going to make the team he was trying out for. But he was another one of our players we had questions about in whether he would be returning. You don’t want to stand in the way of a player wanting to improve themselves and moving on to a higher level. If those players move on we would have to replace them.
If we count those four as returning players which we have to at this point, we currently have 10 players from last year’s roster returning. Glaeser, Laing, Stahl, Gordon, Morales, Restrepo, Pecka, Otte, Nunez and Granado returning from last year’s team.
We’ve also recently announced the signings of Andy Herron from Costa Rica who we are very excited about. He’s played in the U.S. before in MLS and he’s a goal scorer with experience. We think he’s going to add a lot up top.
We’ve also signed Alfonso Motagalvan, a midfielder who’s had some MLS experience and played at Cal Berkeley and did very well and has had a good career for a young guy. And we are going to have some other players we are bringing in. We expect to have a couple of players on loan from MLS clubs and we are working on getting another player on loan from a Mexican team. So we are stocking up the team. If it appears it’s been slow it’s because it’s difficult to make commitments when we are not quite sure what’s happening on the roster. Of course we are ready to pull the trigger if we lose some of those other players we talked about earlier. But we anticipate that we will have a very competitive team in 2012. We always want to shoot for having a very attacking type team – an entertaining team, a team that can score goals and win games.
IMS: On that same subject there are a lot rumors flying that your top goal scorer last year, Brian Shriver, will be leaving to sign for Carolina. Can you talk about that?
Tim Robbie: I don’t want to comment on rumors but there maybe something regarding Shriver, soon that we can announce. Again, you are going to have turnover on your roster. Shriver is a guy we’d like to have come back but there are sometimes mitigating factors. If there is a move there, I’m sure when the announcement is made all the reasons for it would come out as well.
IMS: There have been rumors afloat for a while now that a sale of the Strikers is eminent and there’s a feeling that this may very well be the reason Traffic has separated themselves from the team. Some very reliable sources have told me that TCI (The Children’s Investment Fund Management) from England has expressed interest in purchasing the Strikers.
Tim Robbie: (Laughs) Well that’s news to me. You would think I’d be in the loop if something like that was going on. Chalk that one up to a rumor with no basis or fact.
IMS: So unequivocally you have never spoken to anyone about TCI or any related organization purchasing the Strikers.
Tim Robbie: That is absolutely correct. There are people that want to get into the North American Soccer League and people that want to become part of the Strikers family in terms of ownership investment. Off and on you have those type of discussions with people that have expressed an interest in the Strikers franchise in particular. I don’t believe that Traffic would like to divest itself of the Strikers. Of the three NASL teams that Traffic owns I would say the team that is nearest and dearest to their hearts is the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, formerly Miami FC, because this is the franchise that they originally started when they decided they wanted to do business in the United States.
I think some of these rumors are a result of the fact that they are so closely aligned with the North American Soccer League that they are constantly talking to people who are interested in joining the league or becoming partners with one of the teams they own within the league. So I would chalk up those rumors to all the interest there has been in the NASL.
You know I think the NASL had a great first season. I was very upbeat going into the recent league meetings in Kansas City. I left even more upbeat. I see a lot of good things in the future both for the league and for the Strikers franchise. I think for both fans of the league and teams in the league there’s a lot to be optimistic about.