Fate of NASL Strikers Is Far From Settled

Luis Cuccatti IMAGE, FTL STRIKERS

By JAKE NUTTING

imagesAs speculation about possible expansion in the North American Soccer League continues, there has been little information about the status of the now-dormant Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

The NASL heritage club, which is not participating in 2017, is for sale after failing to meet payroll and other financial obligations throughout a tumultuous 2016.

A lawsuit over unpaid loans filed against the Strikers and the NASL by Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards offers some background about where things stand via a deposition in early April from the Strikers’ former managing director, Luis Cuccatti.

According to Cuccatti, completing the sale of the team in the next month is a priority because of an increasing debt. Along with the $300,000 it owes Edwards from a loan last year, the team owes the NASL approximately $774,000 from loans in the final months of last season and is being sued by three different vendors seeking payment.

Two groups have been in advanced talks to take over the Strikers. Paris St.-Germain Academy Florida — which operates FC Miami City in the Premier Development League — is the leading suitor, Cuccatti said. The group has issued a letter of intent to buy the team and has had its financial bona fides and business plan approved by the NASL’s Board of Governors, but certain demands made by the PSG Academy have kept the deal from being completed.

Cuccatti said that PSG Academy wants more access at Central Broward Stadium — the venue where the Strikers hosted most of their Fall Season matches last year after vacating Lockhart Stadium — for its academy teams. The Strikers, however, do not control the stadium. PSG has apparently no interest in returning the team to Lockhart.

Waiting in the wings is Mario Noriega, the president and owner of local management consulting firm Impulse Marketing Group. Noriega had an offer to buy the Strikers rejected by the league in January because the deal would have kept Paulo Cesso as the team’s principal owner, which the NASL is unwilling to accept, Cuccatti said.

Noriega’s second offer would have installed him as the controlling owner, but that was also rejected because his business plan did not factor in the losses the league expects every team to incur in its first year. Cuccatti said that PSG Academy’s plan did include those losses.

The financial details of the PSG Academy and Noriega offers also differ. According to Cuccatti, PSG Academy is offering $2.1 million for the team, $1.1 million of which would go to the NASL to settle the debts it owes the league, Edwards and vendors. Noriega’s latest offer was $1.9 million, but discussions never progressed far enough to discuss how debts would be satisfied.

Cuccatti said that Cesso and the rest of Fort Lauderdale’s ownership group purchased the team from Traffic Sports USA in 2014 for $1.6 million. Since then he estimated they have invested $7 to 8 million.

In 2015 the BDO accounting firm placed the value of the Strikers at about $7 million, a figure Cuccatti asserts was based largely on the inclusion of Ronaldo as a minority owner. That figure, Cuccatti said, plummeted because of an absence of revenue streams that soured potential buyers and because of the league’s precarious situation after the completion of the 2016 season.

Once Edwards, who moved his team to the USL and is also seeking an MLS expansion team in St. Petersburg, Fla., informed the Strikers he would not be loaning them more money in September, the NASL stepped in with a loan to guarantee the Strikers finished the season. The team still had outstanding debts to players, staff and vendors, but the league declined to extend its line of credit.

While the Strikers are involved in the process, the NASL is leading negotiations with potential buyers. Cuccatti said that Strikers officials were barred from attending or voting at league board meetings over a failure to pay annual dues last season, which he said was roughly $400,000.