SBD/November 20, 2013/Franchises

You've Got 21! MLS Officially Announces Orlando City SC Will Join League For '15 Season

Orlando City becomes the second major league team in town after the Magic
MLS last night officially named Orlando City SC as the league's 21st franchise, expected to begin play in March '15 at the Florida Citrus Bowl before moving into an $84M downtown, soccer-specific stadium "sometime during the season," according to Brian Schmitz of the ORLANDO SENTINEL. Sources said that the club's "entry fee" into the league is $70M. MLS previously had two franchises in Florida -- the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion -- but both folded in '01 "after brief tenures." MLS Commissioner Don Garber said that the league today is "stronger 'by a long shot'" than where it was when the two Florida franchises folded. Orlando City's attendance "peaked at an average of around 8,100 this season and roughly 12,700 during a playoff run that culminated in a USL-Pro championship." The question "will be how large an attendance bump the Lions can expect in the new 18,000-seat stadium." The arrival of MLS "gives Orlando its second big-league franchise" after the Magic. Hundreds of fans wearing the team's purple colors last night "poured into the saloon" where the announcement was being made, and the "carnival-like atmosphere spread outside the building." Fans "sang and waved flags on the dance floor" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 11/20). The AP's Kyle Hightower noted Orlando City as an expansion team will be guaranteed to host the league's all-star game "within five years" (AP, 11/19).

A WIN FOR THE CITY? In Orlando, Mike Bianchi in a front-page piece writes Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs "came together and worked in unison and reached the realization that sports teams truly are important not only to the identity of a city but to the economy of a city." If MLS can "thrive in cities such as Seattle and Kansas City, it's unfathomable what it might do in Orlando." MLS is a sport "undoubtedly trending upward, attracting a younger demographic of fans that sports such as baseball and hockey are losing" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 11/20). Also in Orlando, Scott Maxwell writes an MLS expansion franchise is the "best sports deal Orlando has seen in a long time." For about $44M "taxpayers are not only getting a new stadium, but a completely new major-league sport in Orlando -- a dynamic and growing one at that." For about one-tenth of what Orlando taxpayers spent on Amway Center, the city is "getting an entirely new sport that other Americans are clamoring for" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 11/20).

MANIFEST DESTINY? In K.C., Charles Gooch writes while there may be "doubts about the available talent pool needed to keep expanding and concerns about the state of the league's TV ratings," it is "hard to argue with the league's growth pattern." With the exceptions of Chivas USA and Toronto FC, all the recent expansion teams "have been successes on and off the field." MLS attendance in '13 was "led by some of these franchises," and many of them are "driving the league to new heights" (K.C. STAR, 11/20). Meanwhile, ESPN's Taylor Twellman said bringing Orlando into MLS is a "good thing," but noted there are still "concerns" about continuing to expand. Twellman: "The southeast of the United States is football country -- American football country -- and I don’t care what anyone tries to tell me on Twitter or elsewhere. We need to improve TV ratings and we're going to an area of the country where Miami with David Beckham, Atlanta is rumored to come in." ESPN's Steve Nicol said the expansion is "great because they're bringing in loads of money." However, he added, "Every single time another team comes the product is watered-down once again." Twellman asked, "What do you want them to do? Wait 30 years until they expand?" Nicol: "Stop adding. Have two leagues, do something, don’t just keep adding and adding and adding and watering the whole thing down" ("ESPN FC," ESPN2, 11/19). 
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