SBD/October 28, 2013/Franchises

MLS' Rising Profile In Florida Reflects National Trend As Orlando City Looks To Join League

As USL Pro club Orlando City aims to join MLS by '15, statistics show that professional soccer's fan base "has grown up, and that's helped raise awareness of the sport in a country infatuated with football and basketball," according to Schlueb & Damron of the ORLANDO SENTINEL. MLS 12 years ago "amid dwindling revenues and lackluster attendance ... dissolved its two troubled Florida teams, the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the Miami Fusion." Now Orlando is "on the cusp of becoming the only MLS team in the Southeast." Orlando City Owner & President Phil Rawlins said, "If you are 40 and above, you don't get this. If you are below 40, you get it. There really is a generational thing here." Schlueb & Damron cite an ESPN Sports Poll as showing that soccer in '11 was the "second-most-popular professional sport in the U.S. -- behind the NFL -- in a key demographic: those ages 12-24," and it was "first among Hispanics." Orlando City "led the league in attendance" in '13 and "set a record for announced attendance with 20,886" for the USL Pro Championship at the Florida Citrus Bowl in September. MLS Exec VP/Communications Dan Courtemanche said, "When they drew 21,000 fans for the USL Pro Championship game, that really woke up not just us in the MLS, but it really woke up the world of soccer." Rawlins said that the team "will build on its existing fan base after a move to MLS." Rawlins and team investor Flávio Augusto da Silva "plan to bring one or two Brazilian stars to the team." They have "already started a marketing effort to bring the Orlando area's already large number of Brazilian tourists" to matches (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 10/26).

THE CHILDREN ARE THE FUTURE: The Orlando Sentinel's Mark Schlueb said an MLS team in Orlando can work because "there’s greater awareness of soccer and it’s kind of a generational thing." Schlueb noted of the failed MLS teams in Tampa and Miami, "When the league contracted in 2002, those teams went away, so the popularity was not there about 12 years ago. At that time, if you wanted to watch a soccer game anywhere around the world you had a lot of trouble. Now, there’s all these satellite hook ups and you can just turn on cable and see a soccer game anywhere in the world, pretty much anytime." Schlueb said of the popularity growth of soccer, "A lot of moms are afraid to put their kids in football now because of all the talk of concussions, so you get even more kids into soccer so they grow up with it. They also play the FIFA game sitting on the couch that brings them awareness of teams and players from around the world. Now, they have this global awareness of the sport and that brings them closer to MLS. Orlando City has already built a fan base that’s the highest among a minor league soccer team in the country and they hope that translates into even more fans once they join MLS" (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 10/25).
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