The Right Team
Miami-Dade Parks Soccer in Miami-Dade County, Florida
By Dave Ramont
Sometimes in the world of parks, recreation, sports and fitness, a public-private partnership is just what the doctor ordered, with both sides bringing something valuable to the table that greatly enhances the other's chance for success. In Southern Florida, just such a partnership proved fruitful when the Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department teamed up with Soccer 5, which builds and operates small-sided soccer fields, offering recreation, competition, and training for kids and adults.
Small-sided soccer, or mini-soccer, is played on smaller fields with fewer players per team—sometimes five, sometimes seven. Smaller fields and fewer players means more touches on the ball, providing more action, more goals and a better cardio workout. The fields are walled or fenced, which keeps the ball in play and saves time. Games are played in one hour instead of two, and smaller fields are more attractive to the older player.
In 2008, the Miami-Dade parks department was feeling the pinch of the economic downturn, resulting in reductions in services, staff and tax subsidies, according to George Parrado, who was an assistant director there at the time. New revenue streams through permits and contracts were desired to offset these subsidies. Meanwhile, demand for soccer programs was growing in Miami-Dade County, with existing fields being overused and adult-play opportunities being limited. A plan was in place to build additional full-size fields, but no new operating dollars were available. In 2009, Soccer 5 presented the idea of a mini-soccer complex, which they would build, operate and maintain.
Soon after, an underutilized part of Kendall Soccer Park was selected to test out the small-sided soccer program. Soccer 5 received a Permit to Conduct Business and built four mini-soccer fields. Parking, lights, walkways, restrooms and other infrastructure were already in place—including a concession area in an existing building. Eventually, a 10-year agreement was issued via an Invitation to Bid (ITB) competitive process.
The success at the original site eventually led to a total of 14 mini-soccer fields at three parks being built by Soccer 5, at practically no cost to the department. "New fields energize underutilized areas of the parks, with no negative impact to existing programming," Parrado said, adding that the agreements at the three locations created a $2.5 million revenue stream to the department over a 20-year period. "Net revenues from rent payments are used to offset the department's overall operating cost."
While Soccer 5 provides and pays for the promotion of its programs, the parks department also helps promote all programs at their parks—whether they're in-house or operated by an outside vendor—using park websites, press releases and co-sponsored promotions.
Scott Georgeson, president of Soccer 5, said that promotion is a joint effort. "Soccer 5 invests significantly with local advertising partners in radio, TV and press, but also works closely with Miami-Dade on upcoming events via social media channels." Additionally, "Soccer 5 sets the fees in line with the local market offering for all programming, from field rentals to youth sessions, so we are fair within the community," Georgeson added. They also collaborate with the parks department on special events, like the Miami Soccer Festival and the Mayor's Youth Sports series.
Many municipalities and parks have a hard time keeping up with the maintenance of full-size grass fields, according to Georgeson, so Soccer 5 uses all turf fields. "We use the latest turf technology providing the best playing surface available, and also enclose the fields so time isn't lost chasing balls around as is the case when full-size fields are used for small-sided games."
Soccer 5 also has arrangements to operate concessions, offering everything from Gatorade and protein bars to pizza. "We operate with a wide variety of products that make nutritional sense for our players, while also satisfying options for all park patrons," Georgeson said.
Soccer 5 works with local schools as well, believing that community involvement is very important. They offer grant assistance to qualifying families and have programs for kids with special needs. Georgeson explained, "We've worked in partnership—hosting multiple events—with United Way, Kiwanis Club and various other charities to bring our sport to as many people as possible."
But he also pointed out that they've met the growing demands for adult-play, with a healthy network of older players all the way up to seniors. "We work hard to engage varied groups to provide a platform for people of similar ages and abilities to work out, play the sport they love, or simply get out and socialize."
The mini fields require less space yet can accommodate many more users per hour, and they've helped tremendously in meeting the growing programming demands for kids and adults alike. And extended operating hours at the field locations has increased security to the parks' patrons and assets. Georgeson said they receive inquiries every day from municipalities with the same challenges: The growth of soccer in their community is exceeding available field time. Soccer 5 currently has projects in the works in other parts of Florida, California and Texas, and they've been approached by locations in more than 20 other states as well.
Parrado has since retired, but said he still laces up every Sunday to play soccer. He believes the fields and new programming opportunities have been a huge benefit. "Both parties took a risk, but one that has led to a successful and profitable venture for both."
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