Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber is coming to Orlando on March 1 to discuss the City Beautiful as a future potential MLS expansion market. Garber will meet with the club’s owners, community leaders including Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, as well as the Orlando City fans and media, in a packed day of meetings.
“We are looking forward to Commissioner Garber’s visit, it is a pivotal day for our MLS expansion aspirations. I would encourage all our fans to come to the town hall meeting at Mojo’s and show the Commissioner our City’s passion for soccer” said Phil Rawlins, Orlando City Soccer President.
Garber’s visit is the next step in Orlando City’s goal to become a future MLS expansion club. He will meet with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and other community leaders to discuss several aspects of Orlando City’s future plans. The visit comes at an apt time as all eyes will be on Orlando this weekend as the NBA All Star game hits town while several of our sporting leaders at a forum luncheon yesterday championed the city as one with the potential to become one of the top American sports cities.
Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins (pictured above) said “We have the opportunity to be one of the great sports towns in America.”
Martins was among five panelists for “Florida Forward: Building a Better Sports Town,” a forum held at Church Street Station presented by the Orlando Sentinel and UCF’s Metropolitan Center for Regional Studies. UCF president Dr. John Hitt (pictured below left), retired NFL player and former Disney Sports Executive Reggie William ([pictured below right), Orlando City Soccer Club owner Phil Rawlins and two-time Olympic softball gold medalist Dr. Dot Richardson also participated in the well attended event.
Among their recommendations were to generate more money and publicity for the region by upgrading facilities, building new venues and hosting higher-profile amateur events.
"Taxpayers don't understand the economic impact, so let's make sure they get it," said Richardson (pictured above), a Colonial High grad and former director of the National Training Center in Clermont.
Martins said Orlando could bring in $50 million to $100 million by hosting premier amateur sports events, such as the SEC basketball tournament and the U.S. Gymnastics and U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
"The investment that we make into our facilities will pay off hundredfold with the economic impact it can have on our community," said Martins, who also cited the need to renovate the Citrus Bowl to keep the Capital One and Champs Sports college football bowl games. "It means just as much to bring those national events to our community as it does to have a championship team'' he added.
Richardson said the National Training Center will host 206 college softball teams between now and April, generating $8.2 million for hotels, restaurants and shops for Central Florida. She said adding new facilities and improving existing ones could lead to more events.
"Hopefully in talking and education about what sports can do for all of us gets these venues to the scale we need," Richardson said.
Rawlins (pictured above) meanwhile stated that he was confident a refurbished Citrus Bowl would help Orlando City's bid to become a Major League Soccer franchise, which would bring an increase in exposure, tickets and corporate sponsorship. He added that a soccer specific stadium would ultimately be needed to satisfy the MLS but that the investment to provide that was relatively small when MLS crowd sizes are taken into account.
"It's a major economic impact, and I don't think the average sports fan in the community has really quite got that message quite yet,'' Rawlins said. "The possibilities and opportunities in Central Florida in terms of sports are endless.''
We echo those words and when you consider that this weekend sees the NBA All Star game, the Disney Pro-Soccer tournament staring 6 MLS teams and the Daytona 500 all taking part in Central Florida, you can really understand the current drive to capitalize on the sporting world. In days of economic turbulence, this at least gives us some hope for a brighter future and some light at the end of the tunnel.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer remarked: "Orlando is truly an international city with an increasingly diverse population that draws from soccer obsessed countries in Europe, South and Central America.That growth, combined with our long history of support for professional and college sports makes Orlando a natural fit as an MLS city."
Commissioner Garber (pictured above) still seems to be hedging his bets however as he said: “While New York City remains the League’s focus for our 20th Club, it’s important to continue evaluating future options as we continue to grow the League. This growth has been built on a foundation of strategic expansion strategies and a growing passionate soccer fan base across North America. As such, I’ve been impressed with Orlando City’s success on- and off-the-field and look forward to meeting with local supporters and speaking directly with key public officials about the future of professional soccer in Orlando.”
Capping his visit will be a town hall meeting with Orlando City fans at Mojo Bar and Grill at 12:30 p.m on Thursday 1st March and the meeting is open to the public with doors opening at 11:30 a.m. In short, this could be the most important meeting in the short history of Orlando City Soccer and the club is urging as many fans as possible to attend to make their feelings known and show their support for MLS soccer in Orlando. We'll be there...hope to see you too!
Here's some video from the "Building A Better Sports Town" forum meeting...