Can Orlando City Be a Success In MLS?

MLS has returned to the state of Florida with last night’s announcement that Orlando City SC will move from USL PRO to MLS in 2015. While Orlando should be a top drawer market for the league, some question will persist.

1. What makes Orlando, with less professional soccer history, a safer bet than nearby Tampa Bay where the league contracted its team after six seasons in 2001?

2. Orlando’s Hispanic population is dominated by Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. These aren’t your typical soccer lovers. How does OCSC plan to reach out to them?

3. Orlando City has NEVER faced adversity while competing in USL PRO. The team that relocated from Austin in October 2010 was a top team in USSF D2 and the drop to D3 made them even more dominant. MLS is set up to prevent the type of dominance Orlando City demonstrated the last three seasons in USL PRO. If the team isn’t constantly winning, will fans come?

4. Will Orlando City be able to attract soccer fans from nearby markets such as Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, the Space Coast and Daytona Beach?  These areas all have a rich history of supporting the sport, and Tampa Bay in particular has a longer standing history of supporting the game at the American professional level than any market in the southeast USA.

5. Youth Soccer. Florida’s youth soccer community is fragmented like so many across the country. Perhaps this isn’t an OCSC priority, but maybe it should be?

With these questions aside, I believe Orlando City will be incredibly successful. But I am curious to hear some feedback from the Lions supporters as to how these questions will be handled.

Editor’s note: For more news, opinion and analysis about the Lions, check out our Orlando City team page.

15 thoughts on “Can Orlando City Be a Success In MLS?”

  1. I just have to ask…what is the SE US, specifically florida, doing to deserve all these new franchises? There are about 15 cities that I’d put above Orlando and Miami. Miami can barely sell out games to see the best team in basketball…and somehow they’re going to support a soccer team? I give each 5 years.

    1. A lot of it has to do with TV markets. Having a team in those markets instantly has a huge bump in the total TV Market for MLS. With a new TV contract coming up, that’s a big deal.

      The other issue is investors. Indy, San Antonio, and Sacramento might be better bets supporter wise. But the main investors there can’t really sit at the same table as the new breed of MLS owners. Unless they can fine some big money to partner with them, they’re going to get left out.

    2. I’d also ask, what does Miami have to do with Orlando? Not much. You’re comparing apples and oranges.

      Furtherdown in this thread you describe Tampa attendances as “laughable”. Tampa Bay’s biggest obstacle is geography. Orlando doesn’t have a giant bay in the middle of their geographic epicenter. Despite that the Lightning averaged 19,000 last year which was good enough for 8th in the NHL.

      If you want to talk about football support, the best support in the state is for the Florida Gators just a couple hours up the road from Orlando. They average 90K annually.

      There is interest for sports in Florida. Florida is one of the most populous states in the country. For MLS to ignore it would be pretty stupid. Spare everyone the contraction of the Mutiny and the Fusion…two league owned teams that were axed because of convenience.

  2. Ok…so they lost one MLS franchise, the attendance numbers for Marlins games is awful, and even with this great team, the Heat have to send out packages to fans about how to be good fans, with nuggets such as “how to be a fan.” Orlando barely supports one professional sports team, and Tampa attendances are laughable as well, even for the insanely popular NFL.

    My point is, maybe we can accept Florida is a brutal sports market, and should look elsewhere, even if Becks decided that Miami is a good vacation spot.

      1. The Marlins have won 2 World Series in the last 15 years. The Dolphins attendance is Moribund. Further, comparing COLLEGE FOOTBALL, a sport that is ingrained in the culture (especially of North Florida, which is much more like Alabama or Georgia than the Miami area), and especially a sport that has six games a year. I think it’s a reach.

        1. Marlins won the world series twice, and blew up the team a week later both times. If you followed them, you’d know even mentioning them hurts your argument. Their front office is money driven, they’re not focused on winning and fans dont stand for it

  3. Attendance in lower divisions is not always an indicator of future MLS support. Seattle averaged only 3,500 the year before they joined MLS, and that was the year after they won a league championship. Today they are considered the gold standard of league attendance, and rightly so. The ownership group made a lot of good decisions in attracting supporters. Hopefully Orlando, Miami, Atlanta, and all future clubs will do the same. It’s a shame that many of the older clubs in the league haven’t improved much.

    Orlando has the combination of a new stadium on the way, a good ownership group, and a large media market. Support will happen based on the actions of the club, not based on a past history.

  4. Orlando City has a huge youth soccer program tied into most, if not all of the national level affiliations for elite players. They are having some growing pains as they establish their footprint and there is competition for players with the other leagues but the numbers are large.

    A nice thing about Orlando is that the location of the new stadium is pretty central whether you come from the east, west or north. Jacksonville is 2 hours, Tampa is 1 1/2 hours and the Space Coast is about an hour. Ultimately, its going to be the local support that takes it over the top and that appears to be present.

    I don’t know why everyone seems to focus on the Hispanic demographic when the word soccer is mentioned. Non-scientifically, Orlando is about 1/3 white, 1/3 Hispanic and 1/3 black and at the matches that ratio holds up pretty well.

    Orlando as a market will be just fine. Somehow the Magic pull in large crowds even when they don’t deserve it. I think long as people enjoy the atmosphere at the games (Orlando City and Magic games can be fun for a date) things will go well.

  5. I’ll point out that the difference between D2 and D3 soccer in the US is purely financial. Orlando dropping to D3 happened when the USSF completely restructured how D2 behaves. Like many other D3 teams, Orlando didn’t want to (or couldn’t) comply with the more stringent financial requirements of D2. The level of competition between the two levels is negligible in my opinion.

  6. “Orlando’s Hispanic population is dominated by Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. These aren’t your typical soccer lovers. How does OCSC plan to reach out to them?”

    So why would you prioritize reaching out to them?

    You reach out to white people.

  7. As usual Kartik is way off. He’s entirely unaware of the youth program in place at OCSC. He also unnecessarily emphasizes reaching out to Hispanics, as if OCSC really has an attendance problem, ha!

    Also, he’s not the only one guilty of this, but it’s so silly to see Orlando constantly compared to Miami and Tampa. Yes, they’re the same state but they’re also several hours away. They’re entirely different markets. In the northeast corridor this is the difference between Baltimore and NYC.

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