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The present Fusion management publicly embraces the supporters. "Whether we've been up or down, they've been a part of us," says Doug Hamilton, who along with Ken Chartier has been the team's co-managing director since April. "They certainly make our environment and our stadium among the best in the country."
Despite these sentiments, La Sur de los Afusionados sometimes continues to feel like they are the enemy when dealing with the team's top brass. Hazleton, who opted this year to eschew section 113 for midfield seats with his wife and two children, says he has lobbied repeatedly for the Fusion to identify the west end as the home of the Afusionados so that fans offended by the group's antics would know to sit elsewhere. (There's certainly no dearth of empty seats.)
"They still haven't put any disclaimer up, and it makes the Afusionados look like the bad guys," Hazleton says.
Estevez says that he has attempted to contact Hamilton to discuss how the Afusionados might work with the team but to no avail. "He's too busy to talk to the real fans," says Estevez. "I'm tired of his mumbo jumbo."
The Afusionados are a tiny sliver of the Fusion's fan base, and they are far from the only people who have been alienated by Fusion management. Many people in the soccer community have been turned off by the arrogance of the organization and its unwavering emphasis on ticket sales above all else. Instead of attempting to build long-term relationships with potential fans through player appearances, youth clinics, and other community events, the Fusion has often approached people with its hands out.
David Villano is head of the Florida Soccer Coaches Association, which has more than 100 members stretching from Key West to Lake Okeechobee. The high-school coaches who are part of the association have daily contact with thousands of students with an obvious interest in soccer. In other words, potential Miami Fusion fans.
In August, Villano faxed a letter to Fusion management asking if the team's coaching staff would participate in an October clinic for members of the association. Despite numerous follow-up calls, Villano received no response. He then faxed a second letter to the organization but still could not get an answer. Finally, with the clinic fast approaching, Villano sent a third letter, this one to recently hired chief operating officer Betty D'Anjolell.
Villano subsequently met with D'Anjolell and Craig Tornberg, the team's then-director of crowd-building, in September. "Rather than being conciliatory, she was downright aggressive and obnoxious," says Villano, who coaches at Ransom Everglades School in Miami. D'Anjolell's first response to the idea of helping out with the clinic, he says, was, "How much can you pay us?" Her second response: "How many tickets can you sell?"
Villano came to the meeting armed with a list of ideas for how the two organizations could work together. For example, he suggested sending Fusion players to various high schools for question-and-answer sessions. Fusion management's response to this idea was a condescending question: Do you think Dan Marino shows up at birthday parties for Dolphin fans?
The Fusion coaching staff did eventually participate in the clinic but only after Villano went over D'Anjolell's head and appealed directly to assistant coach Nick Megaloudis. "It was the management that seemingly did everything possible to throw a wrench in what was an ideal community-outreach opportunity," Villano notes.
(D'Anjolell could not be reached for comment for this story.)
Villano says that the Fusion's newest management regime is trying to make amends for the past troubles. He and another member of the coaches association met in March with Ken Chartier. As a goodwill gesture, the Fusion recently provided free tickets to the group's members and a space where they could meet before the start of the soccer match.
It may be too late, however: Only a handful of coaches showed up for the event. "Basically, what we're saying is, the Fusion can't give away tickets," says Villano.
Beyond arrogance, a major cause for the Fusion's difficulties in developing a larger fan base is its revolving door at the management level. This inconsistency at the top has been compounded by the team's continued reliance on executives from outside the area who are not necessarily familiar with the peculiarities of South Florida. The Fusion has flown in recruits with a track record of success in other cities but virtually ignored the services of experts in its back yard.
Tom Mulroy, for example, a leading soccer consultant who runs the Copa Latina soccer tournament each year in Miami-Dade, has had only fleeting contact with the organization since its inception. "The attitude was, 'We know how to do it, and all you soccer guys are knuckleheads,'" says Mulroy. "With that attitude they have dug themselves a deeper and deeper hole."
Leo Stillitano, the team's first general manager, believes he was handicapped from the start because of the team's decision to play its home games in Fort Lauderdale. Rather than being able to focus on what Stillitano believes are his strengths -- the Hispanic and international communities -- the move necessitated more of an emphasis on attracting suburban soccer families from areas like Pembroke Pines and Plantation.