The day of the much anticipated release of Orlando City Soccer Club's Economic Impact Study for their proposed soccer-specific stadium arrived with much fanfare and enthusiasm as several dozen members of the press gathered at the Amway Center to hear the presentation.
For several months now we have been reporting on the team's stadium plans but this represented the first time for many of the press in attendance, to actually hear and see some hard numbers from team representatives directly. Orlando City team president Phil Rawlins led the majority of the presentation, which lasted roughly 30 minutes and included input from Brian Parker, the project manager with CS&L who authored the study.
While most of the media in attendance will have articles on the major highlights from the presentation, we wanted to present those figures but also do a little more explaining into what is behind those numbers so you're a little more educated.
Stadium Size: 20,000 seats with 25 suites and 1,000 club seats included
In our interview with Rawlins back in June and other occasions over the summer the stadium size was consistently stated as 18,000 seats. Only in the last month, as the study was finalized, has the number jumped up to 20,000 seats as we reported. The best explanation is that the study determined that the area could support a slightly larger stadium and/or the size increase would have a better return for other uses like concerts, football, and international matches. The model stadium that has been used on several occasions has been Houston's BBVA Compass Stadium which seats roughly 24,000, so Orlando's plan still calls for an initial stadium that's roughly 83% of that size. The plan likely would still go with a U-Shaped design with the option to fill in the opened end in the future to bring Orlando's capacity up to 24,000 as mentioned in this previous article.
Stadium Cost: $96.5M
|Courtesy of Orlando City Soccer Club|
The number presented today is only slightly higher than the $70-80M we have been hearing from Phil Rawlins and team officials for the last several months. The increase cost is likely tied to either the increase in seats (18k to 20k) or the increase in luxuries such as furnishings in the suites or video boards similar to those at Sporting KC's Livestrong Sporting Park mentioned here. The breakdown of the costs are shown in the figure on the left from the presentation. What isn't included in here is the cost of the land which almost certainly confirms our reports that the team will look to the city or county to provide the land and some minor infrastructure dollars.
Financial Impact: $1.2B over 30 Years
While this number is fairly unimportant to the thousands of loyal Lion supporters, it is a key statistic that the people in positions of power and the general public want to know. If the project is to get any funding from local governments the public will want to know they are getting a reasonable return on their investment. As far as this specific number goes for Orlando, it is in line with similar projects, like the Amway Center, based on size and construction costs. What isn't taken into account is the health of the franchise and MLS as a league and how those factors could impact attendance and overall financial return 10, 20, or 30 years down the road.
Attendance/Events: 687k people over 47 events annually
|Courtesy of Orlando City Soccer Club|
One of the highlights of the study was a slide that explained how attendance jumped for MLS teams in Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, and Montreal when they moved up from a lower division league. Rawlins pointed out that Orlando is already drawing 7,000 fans per match on average, a number that exceeds half of those teams mentioned in their final season before MLS. The study centered in on an average attendance of 18,000 for home matches which is the MLS established attendance goal for all teams/stadiums. The study conservatively went on to say that just 5 concerts would be held at the facility, a number which seems extremely underestimated since several MLS facilities host anywhere 15 or more concerts a year based on location and size. Rawlins mentioned during the presentation a goal of trying to lure other national events such as the men's and women's College Soccer Final Four games to the facility as well. Orlando's excellent climate year-round means the stadium would not be limited by snow or poor weather in the winter like other facilities up north.
When asked by a reporter if MLS had promised Orlando City a franchise, Rawlins responded with "basically, yes." Everyone who has been following the team for the last year or so knows that the last piece of the MLS puzzle is the stadium issue and that MLS Commissioner said previously that, "it isn't a question of if, but when" for Orlando to get a team. Rawlins went on to say that we must act now because MLS will be adding two franchises in the southeast in the next few years and that Orlando wants to be one of them. If the stadium issue drags on, the potential for teams in Atlanta, Tampa, or South Florida to jump in and take Orlando's place could exist.
Perhaps the biggest theme that was driven home again and again by the presentation team was that this was not a request or a demand for a handout from tax payers. Unlike the ugly situation with the Amway Center where the City was forced to pay over $200M for their part of the new facility, Rawlins stated that the whole facility could be privately funded. However, the team would be working with the City and/or County to find a public-private-partnership (PPP) option that would help all parties involved. I believe the PPP will be limited to land and infrastructure, which would still put $60-70M of the burden on the private partners to fund.
No specific locations were mentioned though there is nothing in the report that rules out the Citrus Bowl lots and Convention Center parcel we mentioned in our stadium article in August.
So what should Orlando City supporters and fans take away from today's press conference? The stadium issue will now be receiving the press coverage that it deserves and as that happens you might start to see friends and family asking you about the team and stadium. You see, the study is as much of a report as it is a catalyst for change. Rawlins and the team know that making such a report public will put pressure on Mayors Dyer and Jacobs to act (in favor or opposed). In a down economy, the promise of construction jobs and hundreds of regular and part-time jobs at the stadium will likely mean more support from the community.
The time table for a deal is still six to eight months away in my opinion, that hasn't changed. The next step is narrowing in on a specific site and determining whether the city or the county will become home to MLS' next franchise.