Posted October 02, 2013

Alessandro Butini is the latest suitor in MLS’ Miami expansion project

MLS
The Miami area has been without an MLS team since the Miami Fusion, featuring Ray Hudson as caoch and MLS MVP midfielder Alex Pineda Chacon, was contracted from the league in 2002.

The Miami area has been without an MLS team since the Miami Fusion, featuring Ray Hudson as coach and MLS MVP midfielder Alex Pineda Chacon, was contracted from the league after the 2001 season. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

Major League Soccer already has failed in South Florida, a region hardly renowned for passionate and consistent support of professional athletics. Yet with the league set to add at least five clubs in the next six years, Miami now has become an expansion battleground.

David Beckham wants in. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross apparently wants in. And now Alessandro Butini, an Italian investor living in London, has gone public with his desire to bring an MLS team to the Magic City.

With Beckham’s plans are still unknown — the retired midfielder reportedly remains in negotiations with potential partner Marcelo Claure — Butini believes that the city’s MLS fate is far from decided. His ambition was reported on Wednesday morning by the The Miami Herald. Several hours later, the 40-year-old Lazio fan spoke to SI.com.

“I’ve been hearing lots of names — like Claure and Beckham and Ross — but nobody has put any interesting plans together. Not that I’m aware of. Or if they have, they’re not making it public,” said Butini, who worked for the likes of Morgan Stanley and Salomon Smith Barney before heading out on his own last year.

“If they’re interested, why are they not coming out? We decided to come out so we can sort out the real estate plan. When we manage to do that, the rest will follow.”

Butini said he had two partners back in London: New Yorker Suzie MacCagnan, who works in private equity and has helped match English Premier League clubs with potential foreign investors, and Marco Novelli, who deals in real estate.

His goal is to build an 18,000-20,000 stadium in or near downtown Miami (not directly in South Beach, which he called “congested”) for $70-$90 million. If all goes well, his team will be ready to take the field in 2016 or 2017.

His approach is novel. Butini has joined with the University of Miami School of Architecture, which will set its faculty and students to work on narrowing down a design and location for a stadium. He intends to present a plan to local leaders and, he hopes, MLS commissioner Don Garber in early December. Butini said he met with Garber in New York City in February but hasn’t spoken with him since.

“It will come from the local people — local people who are passionate for the city. They know exactly what to do and how to do it. They’re extremely well-connected at the city level and they have a very good reputation,” Butini said when asked why he was working with the University rather than an architecture firm.

“We’re trying to do a project that makes sense economically. My background is finance and I always see the money angle on everything that we do. It’s something in the end that will be very good for the community,” he said. “I don’t think there is any race. We are under no pressure whatsoever. We’re extremely at ease with our own pace.”

Miami is at the heart of the eighth largest metropolitan area in the country and Butini believes that its growth and evolving demographics make it an ideal spot for soccer. Beckham, and perhaps Ross, agree. None have admitted to a Plan B. If the choice does come down to either Beckham or Butini, the former obviously can offer considerable star power. But Butini, who said he visits Miami at least twice a year, said star power doesn’t ensure long-term success.

“Miami is a very event-driven location,” he said. “You might end up with some supporters who are perfectly willing to travel like an hour to see a soccer team. But for people who just go there just for events, they might like it for the first couple of games, then their interest might fade away if the facility isn’t located in the best possible place.”

Beckham has visited both the Dolphins’ Sun Life Stadium and FIU Stadium. Neither of those fit Butini’s criteria, and further, he told SI.com that he saw no point in a soft opening at a less-than-ideal temporary arena.

The Herald reported that Beckham’s option to purchase an MLS expansion franchise for $25 million expires in December. SI.com was unable to confirm that term of his agreement, which might seem a bit harsh considering he just retired in May. The Englishman is talking to potential partners other than Claure, a Bolivian telecommunications executive. If Beckham doesn’t pull the trigger by the end of the year, odds are he’ll be able to renegotiate with the league. Either way, Butini intends to have made public progress on a stadium by then.

Despite the interest in Miami, it remains far behind Orlando and a bit behind Atlanta in the MLS expansion sweepstakes. Orlando is close to a shoo-in — it needs only a couple of affirmative votes this month on some final stadium funding. Orlando City, the recently crowned USL Pro champions, hopes to announce its move to MLS in November.

Atlanta is further off, but has an owner (Arthur Blank) and a stadium plan (the new Falcons facility) in place.

New York City FC will kick off in 2015. The site of its first game is unknown, but the club is working toward building its own arena within the five boroughs. A location in The Bronx adjacent to Yankee Stadium is the most likely site.

Meanwhile, Butini has a dream and a website (www.MIA4MLS.com).

“This is a unique opportunity from our standpoint,” he said. “MLS represents a very interesting point in the curve of the development of sports in major countries. This happens once in a blue moon.”

14 comments
Go Barça
Go Barça

No, please not Miami again. I used to live in Miami. The city has horrible fans and most of the population who may like Soccer are in low income tax brackets. They will never have the financial power to maintain the franchise afloat. Besides that, the heat and humidity are unbearable in the summer. Good luck trying to bring in fans to a sauna-like environment. It is doomed to fail from the get go.

phnx858
phnx858

Bring MLS team to San Diego, CA

TwitSpif
TwitSpif

They should evict the Marlins from their new stadium and convert it into a soccer stadium. That's my daydream and I'm sticking with it. 

WHO*IS*ESPN
WHO*IS*ESPN

Maybe get lebron and wade to show up and sit on the sidelines and be everyone's friend. They can tweet pics of themselves in soccer gear and say how great they are for the ciy

Miami22
Miami22

I'm amazed with the level of ignorance with regards to the facts about the Miami Fusion MLS experience 12 years ago. Many folks like to talk about Miami being a bad sports town while failing to realize the realities of other cities such as Atlanta and Los Angeles just to name a few. The truth about the Miami Fusion is that Miami didn't fail the MLS, but in reality it was MLS who fail Miami. Back in 2001 the league was struggling financially and had decided to eliminate two teams because at that time the league suffered much financial losses supporting teams without owners, Miami had a owner, but he was ill equipped to financially support his MLS investment and wanted out. In 2001 the Fusion was a very good team setting league records and it's attendance was improving and in fact was better than Kansas City, San Jose, Dallas and Tampa at the time. Yet sill two teams had to be eliminated in 2001 to save the league from going out of business. Of the mentioned teams Kansas City and Dallas was being backed financially by the Hunt family and wasn't going to be contracted, so that leaves Tampa, San Jose and Miami to decide from. San Jose won the MLS Cup that year and saved themselves from elimination, so the final two choices were Miami and Tampa. So in the end it was MLS who failed Miami and not Miami who failed MLS as your ignorance of this situation suggest. If your hate for Miami wasn't so blinding, it would free your from your ignorance about matters regarding Miami.   

Matthew W
Matthew W

Good luck with that! 


Florida has not one but two failed MLS franchises. Miami is known for their wonderful and consistent support of their sports teams (Hurricanes, Marlins, Heat, Dolphins) lol. Good luck trying to find private financing as the tax payers of Miami aren't falling for another publicaly financed stadium debacle. 

5 new clubs over 6 years? Great.....the league isn't diluted enough.

Keats1821
Keats1821

I wouldn't be surprised if whoever wins the bid to put a team there tries to get each to buy into a small portion of the team, just for the cache it would create.

Keats1821
Keats1821

You have it half right. Miami did have good attendance - about 9,500 on average over their existence, which was good at the time. In 2001 they won the Supporters Cup and the Eastern Conference. The issue was their ownership, who failed to bring in proper sponsorship and retain a consistent fan base. While the latter appears to have been changing, the former was not. The ownership was losing money fast, ran the organization on a shoestring budget and was beginning to ask MLS to pay their bills. They had the lowest income revenue in the league, so they were an obvious choice for attrition.

On the other hand, the Mutiny were hamstrung by their lease at Raymond James. They had the attendance, local support and very competent executives, but could not keep up stadium costs. This eventually led to them trading off their best players for cost cutting and decreased fan support. At the time it was smart to dissolve them, even though they were historically one of the best teams in MLS. With the area's rich history in soccer support I would think Tampa Bay would be a better choice than Miami at the moment.

Miami22
Miami22

@Matthew W Stop trying to sound like everyone else who spread their ignorance about the Fusion MLS experience without arming yourself with the facts. Ownership and league financial issues was the real cause of the demise of the Miami Fusion and not the Miami fans who are unjustly being attacked for the last 12 years. The Miami fans were used as scapegoats by the league and Don Garber, they couldn't tell the truth back then that the league was in financial trouble, so the Miami fans were blamed by the league for the elimination of the Fusion. That part of the reason the league never gave up on a return to Miami someday in the near future.  

Keats1821
Keats1821

To your point on dilution, Garber will have to soon realize that MLS cannot be run like other major sports leagues in the US for much longer. He has done a great job getting it where it is today and I believe he is the right man for the job, so don't get me wrong. But at some point a second division and the chance of relegation/promotion will have to be created. As it is there is a clear delineation of teams that can be called the haves and the have-nots. Allowing them all to commingle in one division of 25+ teams would be a disservice to the game, in my opinion. In fact, I believe the competition it creates would actually strengthen the MLS as a whole. Just my two cents.

Matthew W
Matthew W

The Florida Panthers too....

MotorcycleGang3
MotorcycleGang3

@Jesus Hitler @Miami22 @Matthew W @Jesus Hitler @Miami22 @Matthew W Kind of like how the Heat have sold out every game for 3 years? How the Dolphins are averaging 70k so far this year and the Hurricans over 50k and how Barcelona drew 74k when they were a couple years ago and Real Madrid drew 67k here a few months ago? Sounds like a disaster! Of course the Marlins attendance is bad but they suck, just like when the White Sox and Tigers suck they also have poor attendance. Perhaps you just spoke without knowing the facts.