Opinion: Barcelona v. Chivas Spotlights Futbol’s Growing Audience in Southern Florida

Soccer, or “fútbol” as most people around the world know it as, has become a very popular past time among the residents of South Florida.  With a growing population of Latin and European immigrants to the Sunshine State, the game that these new residents passionately followed in their homeland has become a staple sport for the locals in cities like Miami, Tampa, and Orlando.  Even though none of these cities have an MLS team to follow, the support for “the people’s game” has been increasing over the past few years.

The talk of the town for the past month in SoFlo has been Wednesday’s friendly match between Spanish powerhouse F.C. Barcelona and Mexico’s popular club Chivas de Guadalajara.  The visit of the Catalan team to the city of Miami has stirred up the Floridians as tickets for the game are near sold out.  The last time that there was a packed house at the Sun Life Stadium was on October 8th of 2010 when Florida State played the University of Miami in college football.  Ticket prices are ranging from $40 to $300, and the fact that the stadium will fill up to the brim proves that Floridians want to watch “fútbol.”

Besides going to the stadium and watching club teams, Florida citizens also like to watch soccer on TV.  According to data from Nielsen ratings, the TV Market in South Florida and particularly Miami and Fort Lauderdale had large audiences for the FIFA World Cup in 2010.

Obviously baseball, basketball, and football are the big three sports in the USA.  Florida is no exception to this as it boasts teams that have been quite successful such as the Miami Heat and the Tampa Bay Rays.  The support for soccer, however, is increasing at a fast pace.

A great example of this is the support shown for the Women’s National Team in last month’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.  When star striker Abby Wambach and F.C. magicJack played in Boca Raton, a sellout crowd at FAU stadium greeted the World Cup finalist and her team.

Besides receiving a lot of support, soccer is also a sport that is widely played throughout Florida.  The United States National Team has its training facilities in Bradenton where the Under 17 team resides and practices throughout the whole year.  Some of the best American soccer players have been part of the program and have had their fair share of years playing in Florida.

Beyond these potential professionals, a lot of other Floridians enjoy kicking the ball around.  Village Green Park in Key Biscayne is a local soccer hot spot on weekends.  Rooftop Soccer on Brickell Avenue is another popular locale for pick up soccer.  Carlos Barrios, a Mexican-American teenager who has lived in Miami all of his life describes the soccer scene at the park and at Rooftop Soccer.

“Well it’s interesting because you have a lot of Latinos and Europeans who love to play soccer.  At the park and on Brickell we can play any day of the week and the players are very competitive.  You have guys from Argentina, Spain, or Brazil who use to play when they were younger so they never lose their touch.  Other than them you also have Americans who probably played in college and still like to knock the ball.”

The Barcelona-Chivas match, Bill Ochaita, a former GolTV Analyst noted, has really excited the interest of this growing Floridian audience : “I am not surprised that tickets are sold out.  The people who live in South Florida move from countries where the level of soccer is very high and Barcelona is in the top 3 around the world so everybody who loves soccer is going to attend.  People in South Florida appreciate good fútbol and that is precisely what the game on Wednesday is going to offer.”

Alfredo Rodríguez-Allen is an intern in Fox News Channel's Miami Bureau.