How Orlando City’s Move to MLS Will Impact the Other Soccer Teams in Florida

For many years Florida was a barren wasteland for professional soccer. From 2002 to 2005, the state did not boast one professional franchise and a limited number of amateur PDL teams. Suddenly after only boasting a single professional team as late as 2009 (Miami FC) and three semi-pro/4th division clubs, the state now has five professional clubs and eleven semi-pro/4th division clubs.

Orlando City has been the standout pro club in the state and their move from third division USLPRO to first division Major League Soccer is certain to have an impact on the other pro clubs in the state that are either second or third division clubs.

Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL – Division 2)

Orlando is only 75 miles from Tampa and 90 miles from St Petersburg where the Rowdies play. The Rowdies are certain to lose some fans to Orlando City’s move to MLS. Already several people have season tickets to both teams, particularly those living in Polk County in between the two metropolitan areas.  The Rowdies have a strong brand and have demonstrated increased marketing prowess this year coming off a second division title.  Also the Tampa Bay area has arguably the most sophisticated and advanced youth structure in the state and a growing supporters culture. Orlando City will impact the NASL side no doubt, but the Rowdies will survive and perhaps not lose much of its audience.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers (NASL – Division 2)

The Strikers have taken a step back this season with an uncompetitive team and continued rumors about David Beckham’s potential plans for MLS in the area. Fort Lauderdale has experienced a nasty supporter group split, declining attendance, and a bungled soccer-specific stadium search all in this calendar year. The Strikers, like the Rowdies, have a proud history but they have not leveraged it as well. And despite claims from some hopeful supporters and staff that Fort Lauderdale is a different market than Miami, it isn’t. The Strikers will find it very difficult to coexist with an MLS team in Miami unless the organization is significantly upgraded and a soccer-specific stadium is built. It is quite honestly possible that the Strikers won’t even make it until the MLS places a club in Miami, but that is a subject for another day.

Jacksonville (2015 NASL Expansion)

Jacksonville is an excellent market, and though some local fans may be tempted to make the short two hour drive to Orlando for Major League games, the excitement about the new team should minimize defections. The NASL has invested a great deal in this market and if the ownership group matches the fans enthusiasm, this could be one of the best lower division teams in North America.

VSI Tampa Bay FC (USLPRO – 3rd Division)

VSI Tampa Bay FC is the closest professional team to the Orlando MLS stadium location, about 60 miles away. But VSI, a British sports management company with a vertical soccer pyramid in its organization, is more concerned about player development than attracting fans. This club may drop its professional team eventually, sharing a market with the Tampa Bay Rowdies has proven to be foolish, particularly a division lower. Still, VSI’s model is not about fans and ticket revenue, and they very well may be unaffected by Orlando City’s move to MLS.

22 thoughts on “How Orlando City’s Move to MLS Will Impact the Other Soccer Teams in Florida”

  1. The division 2 / division 3 distinction is very misleading with no PRO/REL. Operating costs at the D2 level in NASL are MUCH HIGHER than in the D3 USL – Pro but ambitious owners will find now it is easier to self-relegate as Orlando City did leaving the Division 2 and dropping to the Division 3 in order to play regionally and cut costs while saving money for marketing and an MLS fee.

    In NASL per the USSF standards to be designated a 2nd division certain requirements about stadium size, staffing and league staffing are in place that does not exist in the lower level. So teams have to pay enormous league dues to fund a league office which included the author of this article for many a year.

    In USL each business is independent which leads to some high-level teams like Orlando and some horrible ones like LA Blues. But it gave Orlando the ability to spend money on themselves instead of a league that may or may not exist in five years. They spent well, built a supporters base and now head to MLS.

    This is something for Tampa Bay in particular to think about if they want to be the best they can be and be MLS. Drop out of NASL and its ridiculous structure and stupid comments from the commissioner about competing with MLS, save money and focus on the local market. Get investors and go MLS. Create a three-way rivalry with Orlando, Beckham’s Miami team and themselves.

    We can make Florida like the Pacific NW if NASL, Traffic Sports and their irrational ego would just get out of the way.

    1. NASL is a team run league whereas USL is a league running teams. The idea of the Rowdies dropping to USL is absurd. The USL choose to put a team in the same market that has flopped badly from a support standpoint. Granted it is the USL’s home market but the fact remains they put a pro team in a market with a higher division team existing and that team has flopped attendance wise though as I say about VSI they are into a player development model and have a PDL team, a W-League team and Super Y/Super 20 also, so they have a full structure worth commending.

  2. I think the only thing that could “save” VSI Tampa is the possibility of Orlando City choosing them as their USL Pro partner after OCSC joins the MLS. There have also been rumors that OCSC may “re-lauch” a USL Pro team a year or so after joining MLS and using that team as their partner (similar to some Euro teams). Of course, that depends on how soon MLS is going to require OCSC to join the MLS/USL Pro partnership program.

    If they don’t use VSI Tampa, I could see them dropping back down to the USL PDL in a few years…

    I doubt that MLS would award Tampa a franchise. The MLS wants regional rivals, but rivals that close and in the same general market would be disastrous for both teams.

    1. Bruce, do you think there’s no room for two teams in Florida because the market can’t support both?

      I find it strange as we’re so used to inter town/city/county rivalries. There are two pro teams in my city within 5 miles of each other. Another 12 miles away in south Cheshire and Wolves and West Brom 30 or so miles away.

      As its the 5th choice sport over there I guess you need to convert people. If there’s to be no promotion or relegation then local derbys, where away fans have a realistic chance of attending should be considered. As I understand it in top flight US sport the distances prohibit this, but in football it would serve to heighten the atmosphere and give a selling point that no one else can compete with.

      1. If it ain’t Throwball, it ain’t happening in America. Footy will remain a niche sport in the foreseeable future. Everywhere footy is king, save where they play the ‘world’ series and the superbowl. I am not apologizing for America…proud to be one…but we are a provincial lot.

      2. There is plenty of room for more teams in Florida, if there is enough space between them. There are already three teams in the Tampa/Orlando area (Orlando City, VSI Tampa, and the NASL Tampa Bay Rowdies). VSI is lowest attendance of the three and the “newest” franchise. I think with OCSC joining the MLS, this is going to make it more difficult for VSI just because of the lack of fan support. The population density and interest just isn’t there… Unfortunately…

  3. I am happy for the Florida fans and all MLS fans who can now take a Florida road trip to see their team in America’s sunshine state. For Midwestern’s following your team to Florida during our cold weather has always been a treat. Dropping by Disney while seeing the Fire on the road is an extra attraction and great for families.

    Florida is a big state and has a lot of room for teams. The central location of Orlando in the middle of a tourist area certainly helped it land a MLS team. I believe that MLS will want to have team in Tampa soon and it will become a great local derby.

    1. Theres a lot of Stoke fans who will make the journey when holidaying in Orlando I’m sure given the ties between the two teams already in place.

    2. We used to draw as many as 60 thousand for the old Rowdies in Tampa. Perhaps more night out on the town than serious footy fans, but what of that? I remain skeptical of the amount of real footy fans in America, let alone Florida.

          1. Next move for Becks…the movies. Victoria would not move from LA. She has the movies in her eyes, so therefore, so will he.

  4. Regarding VSI, I am very aware of their youth program. I have seen many matches where no coach showed up for a select team match. I have seen matches where someone, not the team’s coach showed up, although he did not know the team nor whom they were playing. It seems a money grab. It is ridiculously expensive, replacing what was already there.
    The coaching emphasizes foot skills at the expense of positional awareness. A flawed notion at the youth level, in my opinion. I’ll take my team who know their positions and where to be on the pitch, and defeat your team who knows ‘foot skills’ every time.
    On a slightly different topic, when my 37 year old son was playing youth footy, American parents were very opinionated about the officiating of matches, but had no knowledge whatsoever of the laws of the game. I put that off to the lack of footy on TV at that time. I was at a match a few weeks ago, and witnessed parents of select youth players who pay quite a bit of money for their kids to be involved with VSI who have the same lack of knowledge. I was told a long time ago that soccer will be the next big game in the USA. Soccer will ALWAYS be the next big thing here.

  5. LOL @ St Petersburg being “ONLY” 90 miles from Orlando. That’s a long travel distance… Even to a fan like me in Massachusetts that sounds like a lot. In England that would not even be a derby.

    1. In Florida, that’s nothing. If Beckham decides to put his MLS team at FIU Stadium, that’s 70 miles from my house in West Palm Beach. And FIU/MLS would then be considered my home team.

      Tampa Bay Rowdies vs Fort Lauderdale Strikers is a Florida derby, and that’s 250 miles.

  6. MLS vs NASL vs USL and teams. IMO, I think a good start for soccer in the US is to have promo and relegation between NASL and USL. First reorganize USL. I feel they are a mess. From everything I’ve read and looked at, NASL has a far better business model. Also have NASL and USL teams in city/towns that MLS will never had a team but for preseason have friendlies between MLS and 2nd/3rd Div.

    I know this will torque some people but I see that if MLS doesn’t improve their model and game play plus other aspects and NASL does, one day NASL may (key is may) become the premier soccer league in the US. That might take 10-15 years though.

    If I had both a NASL and MLS team near me, right now I would prefer to watch NASL.

    1. Sure, whatever you need. BTW, this is a blog and comment section and we all post our opinions. The key word being opinion. I just post my opinions on the article at hand.

      I’ve been watching soccer for 45 years, played at youth to lower level amateur for 15 years, so I feel my opinion is as valid as anyone else.


      1. Woah! We got ourselves an athlete here! Your opinion will automatically mean more… I mean, you DID play at the (lower) amature level for 15 years.

        1. No, I think you miss-understood. Played in various youth + local amateur for a total of 15 years (that includes youth playing).

          Replied to your snippy comment about slobbering up.

          1. LOL! Well by your logic I played “various youth + local amateur” soccer as well. Add American football and baseball to that too.

            Glad to see that you are willing to warp the facts to support your cause.

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