On Tuesday July 18th the Jacksonville Armada are set to announce Robert Palmer and RP Funding as the new ownership. Either that, or the club is about to alienate the entire fan base with a horrific bait and switch.
Private and local ownership brings stability to a franchise that has been league owned since the summer of 2016. League ownership meant a full-time payroll of less than forty players and staff, as well as austerity measures for other budgets such as marketing and operations.
As would be expected many fans are hoping that new ownership will drag the Armada out of the financial doldrums, but with emphasis on players.
Dear Mr. Potentially announced new Armada owner: Welcome aboard! Please buy players. Thanks, All Armada fans.
— Scott Cushnir (@jaguarmada) July 13, 2017
While players are the most important part of a franchise, they can’t do it all. Club infrastructure and the front office are vital components to franchise success that have been starved under league ownership.
Before to splashing cash on the roster RP Funding has to address several key issues to ensure the survival of the franchise.
Establishing a Venue
Hodges Stadium at the University of North Florida is the only viable professional soccer stadium in Jacksonville. The Baseball Grounds and Everbank Field are too expensive and too large. Jacksonville University has a beautiful facility in an unpopular location. However, per sources within the University of North Florida Athletics Department the Armada only have a season-to-season deal for the use of Hodges Stadium.
The nature of the deals means that a rival league could make a bid for the usage of the stadium this upcoming winter. The NASL has, historically, been unable to withstand direct in-market competition from the USL, however the newly formed National Independent Soccer Association and the USL’s third division (due in 2019) are all potential rivals.
A bidding war for Hodges Stadium would be fierce given its status, and a loss for the Armada would mean matches at Patton Park or a potential move. Melbourne, Florida, is two hours south of Jacksonville and formerly home to Orlando City B. The city was also shortlisted for an independent USL franchise following Orlando City’s departure.
However, the Armada could quickly remedy any strategic vulnerability or off-season uncertainty by locking up Hodges Stadium on a multi-year deal. While a five year deal with the University of North Florida could potentially cost as much as the rumored price of the franchise (three million dollars) it would be money well spent. Locking up Jacksonville’s best soccer venue for five years would relieve concerns of the fan-base about the Armada’s long-term future.
Front Office Staff
The current Jacksonville Armada staff has performed admirably during league ownership. Most of the front office members wear two hats, performing a variety of jobs as needed. Operating in such a way is tough, and takes a tremendous amount of personal grit. However, the lack of staff has set the front office in a day-to-day mindset, rather than a balance between the immediate needs of the franchise and long-term plans.
Adding several experienced employees to the front office would alleviate the pressure. For the franchise to grow there has to be a vision beyond the next game.
The current staff all deserve their jobs. The past year has provided them with a wealth of experience, and many of them are wise beyond their years. However, hiring some seasoned front office professionals would take the Jacksonville Armada to the next level.
Long-Term Contracts for the Superstars
The Armada usually does not release contract details. However, it is safe to say that majority of the players and coaching staff are on one-year deals due to league ownership. The NASL would not want to pay a player for two, three, even four years in the event that the team was not sold and liquidated instead.
That being said the Armada has significant value on the pitch and in management. If those individuals are not offered long-term deals they could walk in the winter without compensation.
Top of the list is Mark Lowry. Given the love of moneyball in professional sports, his age, and ultimately what he has accomplished with a twenty man roster, the Englishman could be a hot commodity this winter. Would he refuse a move should a Sky Bet League Two or One team come calling for a mid-season replacement? The answer is irrelevant if the Armada approach him with a long-term deal. At worst, if Lowry should depart, the Armada receive financial compensation.
Zac Steinberger, Jack Blake, and J.C. Banks would all be potential targets for teams, especially on a free transfer. Given that all three players have played their best football in an Armada shirt, the team is due some compensation should they depart. The only way to ensure that is signing them to multi-year deals.
Securing a venue, hiring front office staff, and signing individuals to long term contracts pale in comparison to signing a big name on a transfer. However, in the case of the Jacksonville Armada the three objectives listed above are far more important than any transfer.
Robert Palmer will want to ensure the future of his investment, and the only way to do that is to place substance before style.