Courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel
On Monday Orlando City Soccer Club announced a new partner who will be investing between $70M-$80M towards the combination of a new soccer stadium and the Major League Soccer franchise.
Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell offered up an opinion piece on the new stadium on Tuesday, and although I am not a fan of the Sentinel Mr. Maxwell typically says what's on his mind. I recommend taking the time to read his article as he sums up a very common sentiment for most people in Central Florida outside of the soccer supporting ranks. As the leading soccer news source in Orlando, I figured Mr. Maxwell's article required a response.
First thing first Mr. Maxwell, you're not an idiot, you represent just one of the tens of thousands of sports fans in Central Florida who are looking at this new sporting venture with a critical eye. Is that wrong? Not at all. If someone wanted to build a new basketball arena in Orlando with a big chunk of public money and only a fractional contribution by the team I would be critical too. Okay, maybe that's a bit of a soft spot.
I may be in the minority when it comes to this idea, but why are Central Floridians investing $175M into the Citrus Bowl renovations when the only professional franchise that plays there is Orlando City? The Capitol One Bowl and the Florida Classic are the only two events all year that fill the Citrus Bowl; just 2 days out of 365 each year. The Russell Sports Bowl, Monster Jam, and the Concerts that fill the remaining dates on the calendar draw much less, in the 20,000 to 30,000 range for the best events.
Mr. Maxwell, while you hold up the example of building a house big enough to handle parties of 25, 50, and 100 people, I would offer up this. Would you buy a 7 bedroom home for just 2 people to live in on their own? You have to power, clean, cool, and repair the entire house whether you are using that space or not; does that really make sense in the current economic climate? Why not move the Capitol One Bowl to Bright House Networks Stadium at UCF and the remaining events to the proposed Orlando City Stadium?
Following the press conference on Friday, several reporters held up the "Seattle Example" of why Orlando should just renovate the Citrus Bowl and have Orlando City play there. Why limit the team to a stadium with 20,000 seats when Seattle has been able to draw 40,000 fans on average? Phil Rawlins said it best in his response that, "even the league can't understand why Seattle works", and I have to agree.
I have been to three matches in Seattle, the number of Sounders jerseys seen walking the streets of the Emerald City equal or exceed that of the Seahawks or the Mariners. Prior to every match, thousands of fans gather at Occidental Park about an hour before kick-off and march three blocks south to Century Link Field where they fill the entire lower bowl of the stadium. The atmosphere is unlike anything I have experienced anywhere else in America, not just for soccer, but for any professional or college sport. The team's performance has been average over their first few seasons in MLS, but no matter, the fans continue to come in growing numbers. The atmosphere generated by the Emerald City Supporters, Gorilla FC, and other groups is what draw people to the matches; they don't come for the play on the field they come for the experience.
For every person that mentions the "Seattle Example" I hold up another, the "New England Example". The New England Revolution were a founding member of MLS in 1996 and have played in Foxboro since their inception. Gillette Stadium is comparable in size to Century Link Field and the Citrus Bowl, 70,000 seats give or take a couple of thousand. But the comparisons end right there. The Revolution have struggled for years to draw fans, they now have tarps covering the entire upper bowl and most of the lower bowl on the non-camera side of the field. I've been to two Revolution matches at Gillette and the atmosphere couldn't be further removed from the "Seattle Example". Imagine having the entire North/South building of the Orange County Convention Center opened for a small stamp collectors show; yes that kind of atmosphere. The problem is so bad in Foxboro that even though Robert Kraft owns the stadium, parking lots, and team he is willing to put up money towards building a new soccer-specific stadium close to downtown Boston.