Born: December 1980 – The New England Tea Men relocate to Jacksonville.
Folded: Postseason 1984
Stadium: The Gator Bowl (80,200)
Arena: Jacksonville Coliseum
Team Colors: White, Red & Gold
- 1980-1982: Thomas J. Lipton, Inc.
- 1982: Earl Hadlow, et al.
- 1982: Thomas J. Lipton, Inc.
- 1983-1984: Ingo Krieg
Soccer Bowl Championships (NASL): None
ASL Champions: 1983
USL Championships: None
The Jacksonville Tea Men was a pro soccer outfit that played both outdoor and indoor soccer in north Florida during the early 1980’s. The franchise originated in New England in 1978 as an expansion team in the North American Soccer League, which was the top flight league in America at the time. In the Tea Men’s final years in Jacksonville, the club dropped down to lower division leagues in an effort to stem multi-million dollar financial losses.
The “Tea Men” identity was a tie-in to the franchise’s original owner, the Lipton Tea company. And it was also a play on New England’s revolutionary war history with the Boston Tea Party. The name made little sense following the club’s move to Florida, but was retained anyway.
Jacksonville interests lured the Tea Men south in November 1980 with a pledge of 14,000 season tickets for the 1981 outdoor season, but the promise never materialized. The Associated Press reported that the Tea Men sold fewer than 4,500 season tickets after arriving in Florida. By the end of 1981, Lipton’s patience with the NASL was nearly exhausted. The league had blown its national television contract with ABC and was now shedding franchises at an alarming rate. Lipton lost a reported $7M on the club between 1978 and 1981, including $1.7M during the first ten months in Jacksonville. In September 1981, the Tea Men were on the verge of folding before Lipton posted the required $150,000 bond with the league to stay in for the indoor season.
The Tea Men averaged a relatively strong 6,375 fans for indoor soccer at the Coliseum that winter. A group of local businessmen led by attorney Earl Hadlow struck a deal to lease the club from Lipton and operate it for the 1982 outdoor season. The momentum died when the team moved outdoors, however. On the field, the Tea Men regressed from the 18-14 playoff club of 1981 to a last-place 11-21 finish in 1982. Fan support dwindled as well. The Tea Men drew only 7,160 fans on average to the 68,000-seat Gator Bowl in 1982, second worst in the 14-team NASL. Hadlow’s group ran out of money during the season and returned the Tea Men to Lipton, who immediately began looking to unload the club once and for all. Deals were announced to sell the club to investors in Milwaukee, then Detroit. Both fell through.
In early 1983, local businessman Ingo Krieg rescued the Tea Men yet again and entered them in the lower level American Soccer League. The nonsensical Tea Men name endured, despite the fact that Lipton had finally pulled out entirely. The ASL had a long and rather weird history dating back to the Great Depression. Similar to the NASL, the ASL had gone on an expansion spree in the mid-1970’s, convinced that soccer’s moment had arrived. By the time Krieg and the Tea Men arrived on the scene in 1983, the ASL was in its death throes. Rebounding from 1982’s on-field disappointment, the Tea Men won the final ASL championship in 1983.
Dissatisfied with his partners in the ASL, Krieg mounted an insurrection in early 1984, peeling away the Dallas and Detroit franchises to form the United Soccer League in the spring of 1984. The Tea Men posted an 11-13 record and missed the playoffs. After countless near death experiences, the Tea Men folded once and for all after the 1984 campaign.
Odds and ends…
The Tea Men’s Jacksonville cheerleader squad was known as the Cu-Teas. Several of their former members have created a Facebook tribute page.
Jacksonville Tea Men Memorabilia