TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Strikers are the newest pro franchise in town. The National Indoor Soccer League is betting fans will show up to watch “hockey on turf.”
“Come out,” league managing partner and Strikers’ co-owner Andrew Haines said following the teams’ unveiling Monday morning at the Yuengling Center, where home games will be played. “If you say you’re going to have a bad time, I’m going to sit right with you because I know you’re going to be like, ‘I was wrong.’ ”
Like the rest of the league, the Strikers will have teams in the men’s and women’s divisions that will play back-to-back, with fans getting two games for one ticket.
The teams will share a head coach, as well as compensation standards and other benefits. The league’s players split a 50% share of ticket revenue, and only the league’s four founders can serve as majority owners.
“All the league owners, we all have daughters,” said Michael Taylor, who like Haines is a co-owner of the Strikers and league executive board member. “So we’ve seen the inequity of men’s and women’s sports.”
Haines had previously owned two indoor teams, but the league’s inaugural season, which ended in April, was his first experience working in women’s sports.
“These women get after it,” he said. “I mean, those games were so much fun.”
A different game
Indoor soccer is more physical and fast-paced than the more famous outdoor version. It’s also smaller, played on a turf field the size of an NHL hockey rink surrounded by plexiglass boards to keep the ball in play.
Each team gets five field players and one goalie, but like hockey, penalties and serious fouls can result in power plays for the opposition. Cagey shutouts are rare. Most games last season, Haines said, had at least four goals for either team.
Instead of the traditional 90 minutes, there are four 15-minute quarters. Haines said the window of play for a typical doubleheader last season was about three hours, though the league will try to shrink that with new timing rules this season.
Most of the league’s core fans, Taylor said, are not big supporters of the outdoor game, so it’s focusing on attracting “new eyes.”
“You would be surprised at the people that do not enjoy outdoor soccer that love indoor soccer,” he said.
Taylor grew up with a soft spot for expansion teams. While he enjoyed getting cheap tickets to Bucs games, he was a bigger fan of the Tampa Bay Bandits during the USFL’s brief run in the 1980s.
“(Bandits coach) Steve Spurrier would always put points on the board,” he said, “and I always got my dad to take me over there.”
A new league
The Strikers are the league’s fifth franchise, joining the Memphis Americans, the Fayetteville (N.C.) Fury and two Georgia teams — the Columbus Rapids and Rome Gladiators.
Like last season, league play will begin in December and conclude with the playoffs in April. Teams will play 20 games — 10 home, 10 away — during the regular season.
The league was founded in January 2021. The Fury and Americans won the first men’s and women’s titles, respectively.
Haines said the league is hoping to announce a sixth team — potentially also in Florida — in August and aims to expand nationwide to a total of 8-12 teams by its third season.
“But having a close competitor is great,” he said of adding another Florida market, “because fans then can travel to away games. Our travel costs are a lot less.”
Haines said the Strikers have begun the hiring process for a head coach and front office staff. After those positions are filled, he said the team will announce tryouts to fill its two 20-person rosters with a focus on signing talent from local colleges.
A strong tradition
Indoor soccer has been successful in the Tampa area before. The original Rowdies drew thousands to the Fairgrounds, Bayfront Center and Lakeland Civic Center until 1993, even after the National American Soccer League folded in 1984.
That sort of “unique soccer history,” Haines said, “never hurts.” The current Rowdies, he said, have “come a long way” in the last decade.
Though unintentional, per Taylor, the Strikers aren’t the first pro soccer team in Florida to use the name. Various editions of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers shared a rivalry with old and current Rowdies, dubbed the “Florida Derby,” from 1975-2016.
“Strikers is perfect for what indoor soccer is about — a lot of striking and scoring,” Haines said. “And this is the lightning capital of the world.”
He said single-game tickets will start around $20. Season tickets will start at $120, or $12 per doubleheader.