Guest Column by Phil Rawlins, president and part-owner of Orlando City Soccer Club.
Last week’s unanimous (7-0) vote by the City of Orlando Commissioners in favor of providing funding for a downtown, multipurpose soccer stadium is one of the final steps toward bringing a Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise to Orlando. A final vote by the Orange County Commissioners next week is the last step to secure backing for a stadium.
But how did we get to our current position, and what is Orlando City SC?
The Lions are a two-time Championship winning soccer club that currently plays in the USL PRO, a division below Major League Soccer. Orlando City averaged over 8,000 fans a game in 2013 at the Florida Citrus Bowl, the most of any club in the United States outside MLS. The 2013 USL PRO Championship game broke multiple minor-league attendance records, with nearly 21,000 watching the Lions defeat the Charlotte Eagles in early September.
Our goal since the franchise arrived in 2011 has been to bring Major League Soccer to Central Florida, and we’re just weeks away from that coming true. After a positive vote on the 22nd by Orange County, we expect a franchise to be awarded in November– with the team to begin play in Spring of 2015.
Many people ask us, “Why can’t you play in the refurbished Citrus Bowl?” and “Why are you using taxpayer money to build your stadium?” Both are very important questions that we are happy to answer.
Major League Soccer has told us without a stadium that meets their requirements (18,000-20,000 seats, intimate setting, roof over the fans, multi-venue), they simply won’t award a franchise to Central Florida.
The $20 million that would finalize the funding for a soccer stadium is not coming out of your pocket, but rather from a Tourist Development Tax (TDT). The TDT is reserved for spending on venues and marketing Central Florida, so this is in no way affecting the tax on citizens of the greater area of Orlando.
Orlando City SC is providing 50% of the total cost of bringing MLS to Orlando, including the $70 million franchise fee and $40 million of the proposed $85 million stadium.
Key points in our bid to MLS that everyone should know also include:
• $1.2 Billion economic impact over 30 years
• Signing a Designated Player (DP) upon entry in MLS, a “Brazilian Beckham”
• Bringing international games to Orlando
• MLS All-Star matches
• Increased global brand exposure for Central Florida
• Second major league franchise in Central Florida
We are in constant communication with the MLS and continue to have positive discussions with the league. A franchise is directly tied to a positive vote by the Orange County Commissioners on the 22nd, which can not be stressed enough.
How can you help bring MLS to Orlando? Call and email the Orange County Commissioners. You can find out more by visiting our website and get involved on our social media platforms. We are also encouraging people to attend the vote on the 22nd, which will be held at the County Administration Building in downtown.
I want to personally thank all of Central Florida for making us the most successful club outside MLS. Continue to support us as we head into next week’s crucial vote, and Go City!