by DAVE MARTINEZ and JAKE NUTTING
Several months ago, the Jacksonville Armada began a cost-cutting operation. Staff numbers were reduced. Spending, examined.
At the time, the thought was that ownership was beginning to take a more responsible, realistic approach to the team’s overall spending — particularly in the face of a difficult year of operations.
But the reason was much deeper than that.
EoS has learned that the Armada have officially given notice to the NASL that they will no longer be a part of the league. As has been widely reported, they are speaking to USL about a possible move to their competition for 2017.
Despite the team’s public notice of support for the NASL two short months ago, Mark Frisch and his group were hedging their bets, preparing to reduce operations to “fall in line with the USL business model” in case of the NASL’s collapse. While the USL does not impose salary caps nor spending limits, there is an administrative effort to keep businesses operating “within their means.” That spells a smaller operating budget — a hurdle for an Armada organization that went big on staffing and infrastructure since its inception.
Before they take the field in the USL, however, the Armada have other issues to address — starting with the team’s ownership. Several sources claim Mark Frisch may be looking to gracefully bow out of the day-to-day operations of the club, perhaps going so far as to divest himself completely from the team. One clue to that intention may come from his Twitter, where Frisch not only eliminated any reference to the NASL in his bio, but also scrubbed his title as Armada owner.
Despite that, his intentions remain unclear as Frisch recently released a statement in support of the club:
“As I continue to work regarding the Jacksonville Armada’s future, I am committed to doing what I feel is in the best interest of the team’s long-term viability,” said Frisch. “It is my intention to keep the sport of professional soccer alive in Jacksonville and I am working with my leadership team at the Armada to develop a strategy that does just that.
“Jacksonville’s soccer fans have proven that it is a viable market – and we are working hard to make sure our vision for the future comes to fruition.”
The Armada have been speaking to investors for several months. If those investors do not pan out, the USL, which has long sought to enter the Jacksonville market, may provide a lifeline if Frisch is indeed looking to move on, providing a group of interested investors at the ready to overtake operations.
Another issue for the Armada is that of their playing grounds. Currently, the team is operating out of the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. Despite arrangements with the city to defer costs, the Armada still pay a whopping $70k per match to convert the surface to grass for gamedays — a number that rises if the turnaround is shortened from its normal week-to-week routine.
Those issues may be the deciding factor when assessing the Armada’s availability to play the 2017 season in USL. In the absence of the Baseball Grounds, Jacksonville University or the University of North Florida may serve to solve the team’s short term stadium needs.