Thursday, September 5, 2013

Last Call

When I started The Scoring Third a little more than three years ago I never envisioned it being anything more than an outlet for me to post my opinions on soccer. To my surprise the blog grew from very humble audiences of a few hundred per month to thousands of followers a day. I enjoyed writing and reporting on the latest soccer news from Central Florida; the fact that other people found this information helpful and entertaining was just a fantastic bonus. With that said it is with mixed emotions that I have decide that this will be the final post on the blog.

To answer the question of why is simple and complex at the same time. The short version of it is that I stopped having fun; the joy of reporting has been replaced with other feelings. The long version involves an internal struggle of wanting to report the latest news while also wanting to see the franchise succeed. I won't go into specifics but what started as a promising article on a new stadium rendering quickly turned into threats of legal action against myself and my website. That is when it became clear to me that the environment had changed; no longer was I able to report freely on the news that I had been covering in Orlando for years. I had always promised myself that when the reporting stopped being fun then I would stop reporting; that is exactly what I am doing.

I can tell you that the decision to end the blog is solely my own and not due to any pressure from outside influences. I came into this media market alone, made lots of great friends along the way, but ultimately I am leaving it on my own terms. That may be a tough pill to swallow for a lot of you, but here's something else to consider that few people know. I don't live in Orlando.

In the summer of 2010, when I started the blog, I was living and working in Orlando; going to see the Orlando Sharks play at the old Amway Arena and making road trips to Tampa to see USMNT friendlies. In December 2010 my family and I made the decision to move back up to the northeast where my wife and I are originally from, more specifically Maine. Since that time I have been reporting on the Central Florida soccer scene from 1500 miles away. I have been lucky enough to travel to Orlando once or twice a year to see my parents who still live there and see the many friends we left behind. I'm not in the stands at matches, in the team offices for meetings, or hiding under Buddy Dyer's desk for conference calls. I used my connections in Florida and good old fashioned research to bring you the latest news and information on soccer in Orlando and I hope you can respect that effort even if I have been physically absent for years.

I would like to wrap up this post with some important thanks to some special people who have supported me through the years. To my wife, thanks for giving me the freedom to pursue this project and taking care of the kids at night so I could write; you're the best. To Alan Lockrem, who encouraged me to start the blog, what can I say that I haven't already said, you are a great friend even if you do like Newcastle. To Zach Gamble, you provided great content during your time on here and you made me want to keep going with the site so thank you. I would also like to give a shout out to several people with the club who offered my little website access to them as if we were the biggest news organization in town. To Phil and Kay Rawlins, you both are such charming and supportive people and the Orlando fans are so lucky to have such fine stewards of the sport. To Chris Jones, you have been nothing but a pleasure to work with, always responding to my questions and requests at all hours just to get the story out. To Alex Wolf, I really enjoyed working together on the street soccer events and team related activities. To the interns and there are too many of you to name, thanks for your support on information and statistics through the years.

In closing I want to thank all of you for taking the time to check in with The Scoring Third on a daily basis. Your comments, tweets, and emails did more to keep me going with this project than you will ever know. I'm not giving up blogging, actually I have started a new project here in Maine, but I am drawing the curtains on this chapter of my life. Orlando has supporters unlike any other club in the country, I trust that they will be rewarded with the stadium and expansion franchise they deserve in the near future. 


Friday, August 9, 2013

Orlando City Stadium Recap

After Tuesday's presentation to the Board of Commissioners for Orange County and the news last night of a possible deal for the stadium, Orlando City Soccer Club President Phil Rawlins was back in the council chambers to give another presentation on the team's plans. The Friday event focused on the Tourism Development Council (TDC), a quasi-governmental group that offers recommendations to Orange County on the use of tourism development tax (TDT) funds for various projects. 

Much like Tuesday, dozens of Orlando City supporters decked out in purple made for standing room only conditions in the main chambers and an overflow room, again showing strength in numbers to the TDC members. Following presentations from other venues looking for additional TDT funds for development, Rawlins took to the floor in what, in my opinion, was his strongest presentation of the stadium plan to date.

He began with painting a picture for the board members on how the most popular sport in the world would be woven into the very hearts of sports fans across Central Florida. In all seriousness, the almost 8,000 average attendance for home matches show that this isn't a circus coming to town, the show is already here.

If you missed the presentation feel free to read back through our twitter feed here where we used the hashtag #TDCmeeting to keep our followers up-to-date. Here are some of the highlights:
  • Based on discussions between the club and MLS officials, the stadium funding represents the final hurdle before earning an expansion franchise. An expansion fee has been negotiated ($70M), the other funding has been secured, but the club expects an announcement of expansion before the end of 2013.
  • While comparing the "attendance bump" from USL-to-MLS moves, Rawlins intentionally left Seattle out of the averages so not to skew the numbers; not something he had to do but it shows they want the numbers to be as real as possible. With the bump, Orlando City can expect their 8,000 average attendance now to move to in excess of 18,000 based on Portland, Vancouver and Montreal's recent moves.
  • Rawlins came right out and stated that MLS would be adding 4 more teams by 2020, which we all knew, but he went on to say that only 2 of those clubs would be in the Southeast. When asked who he thought the clubs would be awarded to he stated Orlando first then either Miami or Atlanta. Ultimately he stated Miami is the likely second southeast club but that Beckham and his team are still well behind Orlando's organizational effort and wouldn't expect something from them for a little while still.
  • The stadium location we reported on a while ago, but Rawlins pointed out the site will be within a half mile of our 16,000 parking spaces and 2 different commuter rail stations along with Orlando's main commuter bus terminal.
  • Orlando City is already in negotiations with MLS to host the All-Star Game sometime during the first 5 seasons in their new stadium. They would expect that event to have roughly the same economic impact as an international friendly at the facility, roughly $5M for the immediate area. 
  • The club has been working with Florida Citrus Sports, who manage the Citrus Bowl, to ensure the facility could be used for regular season MLS matches where attendance was projected to be well over the 18,000 capacity as well as for friendlies. Keep in mind the Citrus Bowl has FieldTurf which would require temporary sod to be laid to meet FIFA standards, but growing grass in Florida is not really an issue.
  • Orlando City continues to have regular discussions with the "Brazilian Beckham" (i.e. Kaka) on joining the club in its first MLS season as a designated player to help attract Brazilian tourists who already represent the largest international tourist group to the area.
  • Phase 1 of the stadium would cost $85M; $30M from the club, $25M from the City (including land), $20M from the county, and $10M in business incentives and naming rights. The first phase would be nearly 18,000 seats, covered sideline seating, open end-zone, grass pitch, and large video board above the supporters section.
  • Phase 2 of the stadium would cost $30M entirely in the form of sales tax rebates from the state, something that all other major sports franchises in Florida already enjoy. Rawlins said he thinks that deal or something comparable could be in place as soon as next spring meaning Phase 2 could be done in time for opening day.
  • Orlando City will be covering any cost overruns associated with the stadium, the club will not be coming back to the City or County for additional funds.
  • Stadium construction would start in early 2014 with completion in June/July 2015. The club would start the 2015 season playing home matches at the renovated Citrus Bowl.
  • A fact that took most of the audience by surprise, the average ticket price "bump" for clubs moving from USL-to-MLS is only $2 per game. 
To summarize the feeling in the room following the presentation, it was very positive and encouraging. The TDC members recommended supporting the stadium and the rest of the venues, something that I even doubted after Tuesday, but Orlando City is well on their way towards clearing the final hurdle. 

The club still will need a positive vote from the Orange County BCC in late August or early September followed by a vote by the City Council of Orlando; both are expected to passed based on the latest feedback from both governments.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Orlando City Soccer Club

Tourism Development Council Meeting

Orlando City Soccer Club will present their stadium plan to the Tourism Development Council (TDC) of Orange County at 1:30pm Friday at the County Administration Building in downtown Orlando.

The presentation comes on the heels of a major announcement last night that Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs agreed upon a structured plan that would provide the remaining $20M for Orlando City's stadium.

Major League Soccer (MLS) had the following comment on the developments out of Orlando: "MLS is pleased to learn of Mayor Jacobs' support. MLS continues to monitor the situation, and is keeping in regular contact with Orlando City officials regarding next steps. MLS encourages both the City & County Commissioners to follow Mayor Dyer & Mayor Jacobs' recommendations and support funding for this exciting public-private partnership."

Today's presentation is expected to last roughly 3 hours and will give the hotel and tourism industry a chance to see what Orlando City and the other venue projects have planned under their requests for funding. The meeting will conclude with a non-binding recommendation by the TDC regarding each aspect of the venue plan.

Following the TDC meeting, Mayor Jacobs will be joined by Mayor Dyer for a press conference regarding the interlocal agreement that is proposed to fund the venues as we reported last night. They will take questions from the media and potentially from supporters of the projects who will be in attendance.

The Board of County Commissioners (BCC) for Orange County will meet again on Tuesday August 20th and could potentially have public comments and a final vote on the funding at that time, however some believe that vote will be delayed until the first meeting in September.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Orlando City Stadium Deal Reached

Late Thursday, our sources at Orlando City Hall and the Orange County Administration building both confirmed that a tentative deal had been reached to provide $20M towards Orlando City Soccer Club's proposed downtown stadium; considered the final financial hurdle in securing the facility.

While the deal still needs to be approved by the Board of County Commissioners (BCC), the plan calls for the City of Orlando to utilize municipal bonds to provided upfront money for the stadium and several other venue projects that have been proposed to the county. Orange County will utilize surplus Tourism Development Tax (TDT) funds over the next few decades to pay down the bonds using hotel taxes, ideally not costing local tax payers anything out of pocket when the bonds are completely paid in full.

Although the BCC provided lackluster support for the stadium plan during Tuesday's presentation, we had heard that both Mayors were working on a deal behind closed doors in hopes of lining up support prior to Friday's critical Tourism Development Council (TDC) presentation. 

In all likelihood,  the plan will be presented to the BCC as early as August 20th for public comments and a final vote; approval would mean Orlando City would have the final $20M necessary to complete their $85M stadium and potentially be awarded a Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise before the end of the year.

While nothing is set in stone and the deal is still being ironed out, Thursday August 8th may go down as the greatest day in Orlando City Soccer Club history.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Rawlins presents to Orange County

Orlando City Soccer Club President Phil Rawlins made his pitch to the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) on why his club deserves $20M in tourism tax revenues to fund a new stadium.

To say the team was well represented would be a bit of an understatement as not only were the council chambers standing room only but an entire overflow room was full drawing a shocked look from Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. 

In front of a backdrop of purple kits and shirts, the club's colors, Rawlins launched into a passionate 30 minute appeal not just for stadium funding, but for professional soccer for the entire state of Florida.

Since Major League Soccer (MLS) contracted it's Miami and Tampa franchises in 2001, Florida and the rest of the southeast has been without a representative at the sports highest level in America. While the league has matured and grown to now include 20 teams, the nation's fourth largest state is still without a club. Orlando City isn't just carrying the flag for the thousands of club supporters in Central Florida, they are trying to remedy a situation for the entire state that has existed for the last 12 years.

For those who follow the blog, nothing new was presented by Rawlins regarding the stadium plan with one noticeable exception. He stated that the club is prepared to pay in excess of a $70M expansion fee to the league in addition to the $30M they are already providing towards the proposed city-owned stadium. While it had been rumored for a while that the fee had jumped from $40M to $70M, this was the first time County Commissioners were hearing this news in a public forum. 

Rawlins painted a picture of Central Florida becoming a soccer destination not just for families visiting from the midwest and northeast but also from South America and Europe. Why shouldn't the most visited city in the world also be represented in the most watched sport in the world? To that effect Rawlins mentioned the ability to drive additional Brazilians and other tourists to Orlando, a move that could generate significant "heads in beds"; the unofficial benchmark used to help compare Tourism Development Tax (TDT) funded projects. 

While Orlando City had done their homework, it seemed clear that several of the county commissioners were still trying to understand the nuances of the stadium proposal. Why couldn't the stadium be located in the tourist district near the theme parks? Why can't you just play in the 70,000 seat Florida Citrus Bowl? There were as many questions as answers, but after all that is the purpose of a workshop, to educate the council and the public.

To summarize today's presentation, one only has to look at a soccer match for inspiration. There are two halves to any match, after the Tuesday meeting the club and BCC went into halftime tied at 0-0. The second half will take place on Friday in the same council chambers as the Tourism Development Council (TDC) will gather for Orlando City to make their pitch. In all likelihood this funding match-up will go to penalty kicks as early as August 20th, that is the next BCC meeting where a formal approval vote could be taken. Seven public servants will stand on the goal line, Orlando City will stand on the spot, the question is will enough votes go through to the goal. 

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Orlando City Soccer Club

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