Two Years with the Fleet – An Armada Season Ticket Holder reflects

December 10, 2016

A struggling Jacksonville team whose owner remains popular with fans as it faces hard questions about the future is an apt description of the Jacksonville Jaguars. It is also true of Jacksonville Armada FC.

A successful early start upon the team’s debut last season, both on and off the field,  faded as the months passed by. A three game scoring drought in July was followed by another one in September, which resulted in the manager’s firing.  After finished the season under interim management, the team brought on former US National Team goalkeeper Tony Meola for the 2016 season.

As in the previous season, scoring droughts would weigh heavily on the Armada;464 scoreless minutes from late April to late May and one almost identical in July. The latter drought was broken in the midst of a Wednesday night 5-2 stomping that likely was the end for Meola (who coached one more game on the immediately following Saturday night before being sacked).

Another interim manager came aboard and he got results immediately.  After failing in its first 25 attempts, the team finally won a game on the road (against Ottawa on August 13).  A second road win came on October 1.  Home fans had to subsist on the thin gruel of draws during this time, however, with three of those being scoreless.

After a wild and admittedly entertaining (in a gladiator/professional wrestling sort of way) loss to the New York Cosmos, the home fans finally got to applaud a win for the new coach, English-man Mark Lowry, who had shed the interim tag in early October. The season finished with a second home win for the Armada.

I have been with the team through all of this as a season-ticket owner. This is not the first time I’ve held season tickets for a Jacksonville team. Out of respect for how the Arena Football League re-organized itself, I purchased season tickets for the Jacksonville Sharks when they were first formed and held them for another season, when they won the Arena Bowl.  Having been a fan of the Jaguars, but not necessarily one of Jack Del Rio or the franchise as it was being run under Wayne Weaver, I snapped up season tickets after the simultaneous departure of the coach and the arrival of the new owner (and availed myself of the option to lock in ticket prices for three years by committing to hold season tickets for that time period).

I bought my tickets fairly early on in the franchise; if I recall correctly it was within a few weeks after of the team name being announced in February of 2014. As I did with the Jaguars, I did so on a three year deal. My sister, Sara, is in the deal with me; at one point I think she was more excited about the venture than I was. At one point randomly during the World Cup, she said with a great deal of happiness “I am so glad we are going to have a soccer team to watch next year”.

All in all, low number of wins not withstanding, we have loved the experience. There hasn’t been a day where we’ve felt like going to the game was a chore vice a pleasant outing. Similarly, we have never departed a game with the feeling that we had a bad experience, again on-the field results notwithstanding.  I am, of course, my season tickets for next year were already locked in. Even if they weren’t, though, my Sara I would have happily re-upped. We love Mark Lowry and it appears that the Armada are holding onto a nice core of players for next year. (At one point towards the end of Tony Meola’s tenure, it wasn’t uncommon to hear the fans around us complaining that they didn’t know any of the players on the field; all of their favorites were on the bench, seemingly without reason).

That said, our fan experience suffered a bit down the stretch. It was news, but not a surprise to read the following, written by Clayton Freeman in the Times-Union two days ago (“NASL’s struggles could mean changes for Armada in 2017“):

Sharp cutbacks took effect in August and September, when the Armada scaled back its game-day expenditures at the Baseball Grounds, stopped sending public relations employees for road games and slashed its budget for support staff.

The team was on the road from August 19th to September 24th.  From that first game back, onward, there was a noticeable difference at the stadium. There were fewer people working the gates (making for a longer wait to enter the stadium) and a lack of attention to detail that wasn’t absent previously.  For example, nearly all games featured some kind of give-away (usually a sponsor-backed scarf) to the first 1,000 fans through the gates. On one late-season occasion, we found 0 of the scarfs to be had when we came through the gate as it opened.  After looking and waiting a couple of minutes, Sara hustled over to the main gate and managed to scrounge two scarves and alert staff to the fact that there weren’t any at the side-gate.  On Fan Appreciation Day, $2 corndogs were advertised, but concession staff apparently hadn’t gotten the news; after going around the various stands in the stadium, Sara took to Twitter in frustration (and it was through that medium that she was assisted by the owner of the then Jacksonville Suns).

 

The author and his companion at Dogtoberfest - An event that didn't get much in the way of promotion ahead of time.

The author and his companion at Dogtoberfest – An event that didn’t get much in the way of promotion ahead of time.

As Freeman mentions in his article, attendance was not high this season.  I am obligated though, to note that while it is true that”At the lowest point, the Armada drew just 1,254 on Oct. 12 against the Indy Eleven.”, that game was a Wednesday night game that was a reschedule of a game that was originally scheduled for the preceding Saturday night and delayed due to Hurricane Matthew.  Just over 3,000 fans were in attendance for the aforementioned  lively match against the Cosmos on the following Saturday. Over 4,500 attended the Season finale.  It was a bit sad to have the season come to an end at that point, what with the team finally doing well and having a decent crowd to boot.

Unlike the previous ends of season (in the North American Soccer League, there are “Spring” & “Fall” seasons, I did not receive a Fan Experience survey.  The remarks I have made hear about the late-season game-day experience would have been the meat of my substantive response (i..e  written comments beyond the numerical ratings of how satisfied I was).

As featured in Freeman’s article, the Armada’s owner Mark Frisch has big challenges in front of him.  I’ll reflect on those in a later post.

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Responses to “Two Years with the Fleet – An Armada Season Ticket Holder reflects”

  1. MenaceFan Says:

    Love your passion and support. As a follower of US soccer I was skeptical in 2011 when the “top” USL teams broke away and subsequently the NASL was formed. The NASL folks & trans unabashedly stated they planned on competing with the MLS ala Donald Trump’/ failed fall USFL experiment. While I respect the fact they didn’t want to be viewed as a minor league or feeder league to MLS I felt the approach to poking the MLS bear quite silly.

    Jump ahead now to the Armada. Tremendous marketing, publicity, and vision- to an extent. The opener at Everbank was highly anticipated. The crest & collateral marketing material was major league. Their flaw was pushing a team rather than an experience. You can’t tout the team and then go out and stink the place up. They should’ve heavily prmototed SEC 904 and the cool gameday experience, not a weak roster or unproven former National Team goalie. Witnessing my first NASL match after countless USL & MLS matches I was severely disappointed at the level of play. I have no doubt that the postage stamp feel of the fieldat Comminity First Park contributed, but the level of play was on par or worse at times then most USL matches I’ve attended. Seeing the pagentry and commitment the Armada made to dressing up a baseball stadium (it really did feel like a real footy ground) I knew immediately their fatal flaw was going NASL- the salaries & travel combined with costs of playing in someone else’s facility would be crazy. They should’ve started in USL and built something rather than immediately thinking they could sustain that 17k or even 7k mark. The story of FC Cincinnati comes to mind- very similar strong ownership & fan support, but after a season in USL where they averaged 14,000 fans they are flirting with MLS while the Armada are flirting with Bolles High School.


    • As I mentioned in my post today, I went a fair amount of time without following soccer at all. There’s a massive gap in my knowledge with what happened between early MLS and when the Armada were announced. As such, I don’t know much about the formation of the current iteration of the NASL.

      As I mentioned in my post today, I went a fair amount of time without following soccer at all. There’s a massive gap in my knowledge with what happened between early MLS and when the Armada were announced. As such, I don’t know much about the formation of the current iteration of the NASL.

      Given the perception of how MLS’ designated player rules work I can see where the owner of a Jacksonville team would not want to be part of anything tied to that league. I may have the wrong idea of the USL, but it certainly seems to me that MLS is subsuming that as a minor league such that all professional soccer is in their universe.


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