SBD/August 2, 2013/Franchises

USL Pro's Orlando City Meets With MLS Commissioner Regarding Expansion Plans

Orlando City FC's owners are targeting '15 for a move to MLS
Several hours before MLS Commissioner Don Garber detailed the league's future expansion plans Wednesday, USL Pro Orlando City FC Owners Flávio Augusto da Silva and Phil Rawlins "made their pitch to the league's board of governors" at a K.C. hotel, according to Brian Straus of SI.com. The pair "discussed the design and public/private financing of the 18,000-seat stadium the club intends to build in downtown Orlando." They also "trumpeted the crowds the team has drawn to the Citrus Bowl." At nearly 8,000 fans per game, Orlando City's average attendance is "more than double what the second-division Seattle Sounders attracted in their final minor league campaign." Da Silva and Rawlins also "advocated for Orlando itself, which is critically important when trying to bring a team to the state that hosted MLS's only two failures, the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion." da Silva "smiled as he said that he expects City to become the 'second team' for legions of Brazilian tourists." He and Rawlins are focused on joining MLS in '15, not '20. Da Silva, when asked about the odds that Orlando City will enter the league alongside NYC FC in two years, said, "We are much ahead of New York. ... We still have some pieces to put in place, but I would say 99 percent." Straus cited reports that suggest da Silva is "prepared to spend" $80M total. Da Silva said that he "looked into buying an existing MLS club, but he concluded that Orlando's potential, its status as a global tourist destination, the dearth of major league competition and the response from the area's fan base made 'The City Beautiful' the best choice" (SI.com, 8/1).

REMEMBER THE ALAMO: In San Antonio, Dan McCarney notes NASL San Antonio Scorpions Owner Gordon Hartman "has repeatedly expressed his intent to let his fledgling professional soccer team grow methodically, pursuing membership in Major League Soccer only with the requisite support." Hartman "saw no reason to alter that approach" after Garber's announcement. Hartman on Thursday said, "Most teams don't make the jump immediately. They define their fan base and build their brand. ... I think we can be serious (candidates) if we continue to see our fan base grow, our season-ticket sales grow. We put all this together because we felt this is an extremely strong soccer city, and we're not going to do anything to put ourselves behind. But the fans have to be there with us.” Hartman is "open to adding partners or selling the franchise outright as long as it aides his charitable mission." He said that he has "been contacted by numerous parties, describing one as serious." The Scorpions are averaging 7,139 fans in NASL matches in their first season at Toyota Field, which "has a current capacity of 8,000 and can be expanded to more than 18,000" (SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, 8/2).
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