Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mr. Garber goes to Orlando

The atmosphere was electric at Mojo Bar & Grill in downtown Orlando this afternoon for the much anticipated town hall meeting between MLS commissioner Don Garber and Orlando City supporter groups to discuss an expansion team for "the city beautiful." The crowds began to form around 11am with just a trickle, a few fans here and there, but by the time the doors opened at 11:30am the trickle turned into a flood. An estimated three hundred fans packed into a standing room only Mojo just before "the Soccer Don" took the stage. Hand made banners were strung from the mezzanine; a lion standing on a NY Cosmos ball, the MLS logo changed to ORL, and all the supporter group flags as well. Just after the clock struck 12:30pm, Garber followed closely by Orlando City president Phil Rawlins entered the room as chants of "we are Orlando" rained down from the rafters. With a massive smile on his face Garber begin with his prepared speech.

One of the early points Garber made in his speech was how the situation and atmosphere with Orlando City reminded him very much of Philadelphia and the "Sons of Ben" in 2007 and 2008. We had mentioned this very point in our article "Making Preparations" yesterday with how the grass roots effort to get a team is gaining momentum and how they went from nothing in 2006 to an expansion franchise in 2008. Garber pointed out after the town hall that the requirements for an expansion franchise in 2008 are different from the requirements for MLS 20, but he wouldn't get into specific details. The fact that Garber mentioned the Philadelphia connection no less than three times during his speech clearly shows that he, and MLS, recognize the grass roots effort of supporters around the Orlando City team.

Garber highlighted all the wonderful things going on in Orlando at this time, including City's performance last season, the NBA All-Star game, and area businesses. He said that MLS wants to be a part of what's going on in Orlando and that it wasn't a question of "if", but when MLS would come to the city beautiful. Garber mentioned said that the team has done their part in the structure of their organization and he was impressed at City's full soccer pyramid from U-5 teams up to the USL PRO level. He stressed that several things still need to be accomplished before MLS can grant Orlando a franchise:
  1. Attendance - The magic number, as we mentioned yesterday, is 10,000 average attendance at home games. That's not much of a stretch considering City pulled in almost 6,000 on average last year and season ticket sales are up about 60% this year.
  2. Sponsors - Garber stressed the need to get out and support the businesses that support Orlando City. With Orlando Health as the jersey and primary sponsor I don't believe he wants you to get in a care accident so you can be treated at ORMC, but you understand his point. He also stressed the need to grow the sponsor base, most likely pulling in a national brand for the title sponsor. Disney, Dardens; there are plenty of options locally that have national exposure.
  3. Stadium - The one issue that always comes up with expansion teams. Although the Citrus Bowl renovation is the path of least resistance as far as money and time are concerned ultimately MLS wants a new soccer specific stadium in a downtown location. Orlando City have been working on plans for a new SSS, but funding will be the issue as it always is with stadium. The location likely comes down to the new Creative Village at the old Amway Arena site or a location around the Citrus Bowl. Garber mentioned the fact that building a new stadium in NYC will take a long time, that's the battle MLS has been fighting since the old Metrostars.
Garber went on to explain that it isn't a competition between NY2 and Orlando; he envisioned both cities getting teams and stated that MLS would expand beyond 20 teams to 22 or 24 depending on the professional sports climate. He stressed the fact that no time table is set for announcing MLS 20 and that they will announce the team once all of the requirements have been met and reviewed and if the expansion makes sense to the overall MLS model. With MLS not announcing a new team for the 2012 season after adding at least one team in each of the last 7 season, odds are still in favor of MLS 20 being announced this season with play likely starting in 2014. The league currently has 19 teams and an unbalanced schedule because of the odd numbers and desire to keep regional rivals playing more frequently.

Following the town hall meeting the press in attendance had a chance to ask some additional questions of Garber.

When asked if Garber's visit changed his thoughts on Orlando he responded, "It has, no question. As remarkable a fan rally like this I've experienced before a team came into major league soccer with the exception of Philly with Sons of Ben and that was a really remarkable phenomena."

On the question of cities like Las Vegas and Minneapolis proposing new stadiums geared for major league soccer and how that would impact the expansion talk Garber had this to say. "They're all pretty much at the same stage, some of them are more advanced than others. Some on the facility front, some on the ownership front. I never get into this debate of rating/ranking, it's just not good. We have made really good decisions with the last 9 teams that we've done. We're going to make a good decision with the 20th team; we'll make a good decision with the teams after that."

"The Professor" was able to ask a great question based on listening to the state of the league address last week in Columbus. He asked with rivalries being a key factor to MLS's success in recent years, but with DC United (and Houston) being our closest rivals at 850 miles away, should we assume that Orlando will not be admitted into MLS alone without another rival in the Southeast? Garber's response, "It would be a factor of the 20 factors we would have to think about, but it's not a deterring factor."

We also had a chance to ask the last question of the town hall meeting which got a massive response from the crowd, but not quite the same reaction from Mr. Garber. "The Professor" asked, "Orlando is home to Fortune 500 companies, the 2nd largest university in the country, an NBA team, fantastic weather, and is the theme park capital of the world. Can you tell me not what Orlando can do for MLS, but what MLS can do for Orlando." Both Garber and Rawlins smiled as the crowd cheered, but in the end Garber simply said, "I don't think I'll answer that." We tried to follow-up on the question during the press interviews following the town hall meeting, but again we got the same response. So why did we ask this question? It wasn't for shock value, not in the least. Orlando and the people of Central Florida just finished 4 years of wooing our current professional franchise, the Magic, and their need for a new stadium. The new Amway Center came about not because of what the Magic brought to Orlando but rather out of fear of losing our only professional team. With MLS requiring a soccer specific stadium and the city/county already on the hook for a large chunk of the Amway Center bill, we wanted to know what our return would be as fans, tax payers, and citizens if we work to bring MLS to town. The casual fan would say we would get a second professional sports franchise, but we were hoping for more. We wanted to know that MLS wasn't just looking at Orlando as a line item in their accounting books that they would bring their muscle for community service, such as through the MLS Works program, to better our community and spread soccer to the underprivileged. Soccer has always separated itself from other sports in that it isn't just watched, it's lived. Just like Phil Rawlins and Orlando City have established a total soccer pyramid we wanted to know that MLS would work not just to put a franchise in this city, but a team into the community's hearts. The question was meant to give pause to Mr. Garber, and that it did, but the rapid fire Q&A session didn't really allow the time the answer would have required. We hope Garber reaches out to the us and the community in future dealings and emphasizes the impact MLS will have WHEN it arrives in Orlando.
 
Thanks to all of the support groups we ran into today at Mojo and the Disney Pro Classic. It was a day for the fans and the fans truly had their day! As always, spread the word about our petition to bring MLS to Orlando... http://www.orlandomls2013.com/
 


3 comments :

  1. You did hear the parts where he also said " One year does not a franchise make" meaning we need to create tradition here in orlando...and he talked of a 5 year or 10 year plan for this to happen. You know no $ will be available for the Citrus Bowl till 2018 according to the mayors office and the Orlando Sentinel (Bob Carr PAC must come first by law). Yes he made several Philly reference but always with the caviat they are 2500 members (season ticket holders) strong the supporters groups combined are a robust 300 at best....asking him what could a professional sports franchise in a city with only one NBA team and an arena team? $$$ thats what...small business here in Orlando has been the hardest hit by the economy...need proof look at all the closed restaurants and bars in orange and osceola counties...Dont drink the kool aide on this.. yes he knows were here....but he stated 10k average at the citrus bowl....thats going to be difficult at best...(heat and humidity) as well as other numerous uncomfortable factors make the citrus bowl in its current state not a must see for visitors from out of town...and until mainstream media ( the sentinel) gets behind this project fully the court of public opinion will be set agaisnt you. how many of you to this day march 2 2012 when wearing Orlando City gear around town still get asked what team is that and when you explain it they say " I didnt know Orlando had a soccer team" it happens alot to those of us that wear the gear consistantly..And you did go to the Disney Classic....0-2-1 with 8 goals against and only 2 in a 3 game span 2 shoutouts...clearly show this team is good but isnt quite ready to make the step up. Now lets put this MLS talk to rest for now and concentrate on things we can acheive...USL wins and a deep run in the OPEN CUP

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  2. Anonymous,

    Appreciate the feedback.

    I agree, "one year does not a franchise make." However, all reports are that Season Tickets sales are up considerably over last year – which was the highest attendance in Professional Soccer in North America outside of this year’s MLS teams, by the way – and I fully expect our average attendance to increase as well. Would it be nice to reach 2,500 Supporter Group Season Ticket Holders? Absolutely. Does it ruin our chances of getting an MLS franchise if we don’t hit that mark? Absolutely not. Mr. Garber has stated that the unofficial MLS requirement for average attendance is the magic number of 10,000. Will that be difficult with our hot and humid climate in Orlando? Maybe, but it is also hot and humid in Dallas and Houston and they averaged 12.9K and 17.7K fans per game respectively last year. I fully expect Orlando City to reach the magical 10K fans in the very near future and tick the Attendance Box for MLS.

    In regards to Mr. Garber’s discussion of Orlando and Philly, I took nothing but positive from the comparisons. In fact, after the Orlando Town Hall meeting, he stated that it was “As remarkable a fan rally like this I've experienced before a team came into major league soccer with the exception of Philly with Sons of Ben and that was a really remarkable phenomena." I think Orlando did an incredible job yesterday showing the kind of fan support MLS is now expecting from their expansion teams and ticked the Fan Base Box for MLS.

    The stadium issue is the biggest hurdle for not only Orlando, but most expansion MLS teams. And we agree that the Citrus Bowl Upgrades do not look like they are going to happen for many years. But this does not preclude Phil Rawlins and Orlando City from finding private investors to fund a Soccer Specific Stadium (SSS). It will most likely still require some Orlando and Orange County financial support, but I’m assuming that was part of the discussion in yesterday’s meetings with Mayors Dyer and Jacobs. And it sounds like it was a positive conversation. My personal hope is that Orlando City goes the SSS route and not wait for the Citrus Bowl Upgrades. This would tick the Stadium Box for MLS.

    As far as this past week’s performance in the Disney Classic, I’m not worried. The first game was a fine performance by City, where they could have pulled out the win with some better finishing. In the second game…I’m not sure what the stats are for your chances to win when you pick up a red card in the first 5 minutes, but it can’t be good. A loss in those conditions should not be a surprise. In the final game, the boys looked tired. This is the beginning of the preseason and it showed. Looking to the future, when we join the MLS (it’s not a matter of IF anymore per Mr. Garber), we keep the players that are at the MLS level of play and upgrade the rest of the roster, just like all expansion teams do. I cannot imagine Phil Rawlins and Coach Heath ever putting a product on the field that is not competitive.

    Finally, I think we can both agree that we currently have a good thing going. We ran away with the USL Pro Regular Season title last year and won the Tournament. We get to see our team play against MLS competition in the Preseason. We brought in two EPL teams to the Citrus Bowl this past summer while other MLS teams were begging to get one! And we expect our club to have a deep run in the Open Cup this year. I don’t see why we can’t continue with this immediate success and push for an MLS franchise? Especially when it looks like we are “this close” to ticking all the boxes in the MLS checklist.

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  3. Wow Professor! You managed to sound intelligent and put me to sleep all at the same time. Ha! I can't really add anything more to that except we appreciate all of our "anonymous" followers.

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