Orlando City optimistic about expansion chances after meeting with Garber

Garber Rawlins (OCSC)

photo by Jon Lorentz/Orlando City SC


ORLANDO, Fla. — Hundreds of people clad in red and purple were on their feet. Some were banging drums, others were chanting and another group was cracking jokes at the referee who was officiating the match being played right in front of their eyes. The festive manner of all these fans was easy to detect to anyone within sight.

That was in the 89th minute with their hometown team down 2-0.

No, these fans were not wishing ill will on their team. Instead, they were joyous over the words they had heard earlier in the day and nothing would ruin their mood. Not even a shutout loss.

These fans in attendance were the members of Iron Lion Firm and the Ruckus, the two biggest supporters groups of USL Pro club Orlando City SC. They were witnessing their Lions fall at the hand of Swedish side BK Hacken in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic tournament on Thursday night, but that was an afterthought to what MLS commissioner Don Garber had told them earlier in the day when he met with them inside a local bar to discuss the possibility of expansion. 

"It's not a matter of an if, but a when," Garber told the hundreds of Orlando City fans that squeezed inside the downtown Mojo Cajun Bar & Grill about their team's prospects of landing in MLS someday.

Garber echoed that sentiment as well as others to reporters following the event, including his admiration for the fans who welcomed him with digital billboards, chants with his name in them and a pair of Orlando-to-MLS banners.

One of those was the MLS logo in Orlando City colors with the letters "ORL" in place of "MLS". The other read "GARBER WE READY" and had a Lion standing on top of the logo of the New York Cosmos, the other team heavily linked with becoming MLS's 20th franchise.

"The fan base is rabid, man," Garber said after the event. "They are really passionate about their club and really want to see MLS as their next step, so it was a good productive couple of hours."

Garber said that aside from turnouts by Philadelphia Union supporters group Sons of Ben, the event in downtown Orlando was the largest fan rally he had seen from a team trying to come into MLS. Garber was happy to see such a large crowd on hand considering it was the afternoon of a workday, and he also said he was impressed by Orlando City's soccer development pyramid, which he claimed was close to the ones currently run by many MLS teams.

Areas where Garber said improvements could be made for the second-year club are in ticket sales and corporate sponsorship. In fact, Garber threw out a number that he said would really catch the league's attention.

"Hit 10,000 season tickets. They do that, boy, our eyes will be open in New York City," said Garber, who also stated Orlando City currently has sold 3,500.

Another item that needs to be addressed by Orlando City is the need for a soccer-specific stadium. The 2011 USL Pro champs currently play in the Citrus Bowl, a 70,000-seat stadium that opened in 1936.

Renovations for the cavernous stadium are a possibility and playing there in the short term is an option, but Orlando City ownership knows a soccer-specific stadium will be needed if the team is ever to go from viable expansion candidate to MLS franchise.

"We've said 2014, 2015 (as the target date to enter the league)," Orlando City owner and president Phil Rawlins told SBI exclusively. "We've got some things to do, we've got to work out a soccer-specific solution. We don't have to have a stadium finished by then but we need to know where we're going to be playing and where we're going to house Major League Soccer.

"That's the part we're going to work on next. That's the part that is open to discussion. We'll be engaging on that in the next few months."

Garber made sure to point out the team's need for a stadium solution as well.

"The No. 1 (requirement) in any expansion process is ownership, and we have that in place," said Garber. "No. 2 is the right market from the supporters and No. 3 is the facility. I think we have a good market here, we've got the right ownership group.

"We have not even begun the process on the facility, and until we're able to get further on that it will just force us to continue to work harder on the last piece of the puzzle."

Orlando was not the only Florida city Garber mentioned during his brief stay in the City Beautiful (as it is known to some). Garber talked about the need for the league to expand into the south and one other city he mentioned that is 'trying to make its way into the league' is Miami.

The South Florida city is the same city Garber spent Wednesday night in to watch Colombia take on Mexico in a friendly in front of more than 50,000 fans at Sun Life Stadium. It is the same city Garber said MLS needs to be in eventually.

"It's premature to talk about ownership or stadium or anything like that," said Garber when asked specifically about Miami. "Best thing I can say is we need to expand into Florida. There are lots of different places for us to do that. We've had teams in Miami and Tampa (Bay) in the past. Orlando had never been on our list in the past. It certainly is on our list now. Now the question is what is the best strategy and what's the best timing."

Garber, who said he did not have an answer as to when MLS would put a cap on expansion, also brought up how local rivalries, like the ones in the Pacific Northwest, help promote the sport. Orlando fans should not get their hopes up for a rivalry with western neighbor Tampa, however.

"We don't have any discussions going on there now," said Garber.

Orlando City will continue to have discussions with MLS, and while the club is still not a shoe in for the 20th spot in the league, its chances of one day being in the league look to be as bright as ever.

"It's been a really, really enjoyable day for us," Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath told SBI following his team's loss to BK Hacken. "I'm just happy (with) what we've got today. We've had the commissioner, and I think we've shown Orlando in a good light, and we move on from here."

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53 Responses to Orlando City optimistic about expansion chances after meeting with Garber

  1. 23 says:

    if there is to be a league of only 20 teams I definitely say there should be a final shortlist of 3 cities- St. Louis, Atlanta or a team in Florida.

    just has to be. Now if we expand to say 24 teams within the next decade, then sure

    another New York team, team in St. Louis, team in Atlanta, team in Orlando and maybe another in Florida or North Carolina

  2. jonfsoccer says:

    I know we will never get a MlS team but Hartford needs a NASL or USL club. I know more ex revs fans (about 20) than I know that still follow the New England. New England is bigger soccer hot bed than anywhere in US. The Krapps have destroyed MLS in New England. Everyone hates the Krapps. Or please Garber convince them to sell!!!!

  3. PCFC says:

    No DPs will want to play in Orlando. Miami and Tampa might have a chance, but I can’t see Disney having that attracting-ability that has caused DPs to flood NY and LA, but absent amongst the other areas of the league. If MLS wants to increase TV rights and not in-game attendance, Orlando is not the place to go.

    Don’t get me wrong. Small-town clubs are essential to the league (Columbus, Salt Lake, etc), but they don’t bring in the real money…TV viewership.

  4. timmytwoshoezzz says:

    Yea, let’s give Florida more sports teams, because right now they don’t have enough under-supported pro franchises.

  5. PCFC says:

    Yeah, if they ever move out, they’ll need to rebrand. And not in the Red Bull NY way. More in the SKC, Miami Marlins way.

  6. $herman Maje$ty says:

    Orlando, Atlanta, St. Louis all deserve MLS teams! Please MLS DO NOT give a 2nd team to NY. That would be stupid! NY DOES NOT even support the MLS team already in NY! Orlando, Atlanta, and St. Louis all deserve MLS teams!!!!!!!

  7. PCFC says:

    19K/game last season.

  8. pgloerse says:

    No state income tax in Florida helps DP’s play here.

  9. Eurosnob says:

    If Columbus was able to attract a designated player, Orlando should be able to do the same.

  10. Polo says:

    Miami can barely get fans to go watch the Heat. Maybe the Latino contingent will draw for MLS games, but I doubt it.

    Miami is the worst sports city in America. Do not expand there.

  11. PCFC says:

    Sorry. I meant big money DPs. GBS was an amazing signing. No debating that. But I’m not referring to DPs like Hamdi Salihi or Branko Bošković here. I’m referring to ones that elevate the league media-wise, not playing wise. Henry, Keane, Beckham, Marquez, Blanco, Bravo, Donovan, Angel, and Ljungberg. Out of those, only Bravo went to a small club. And I’d say KC is a bigger market than Orlando.

  12. Mike in Missouri says:

    If you build it, they will come.

  13. jonfsoccer says:

    please give Hartford NASL or USL

  14. NATO making strides in Afghanistan? says:

    agreed. though technically the Red Bulls are in NJ right?

    but my question is why did MLS award the 19th club to Montreal? Atlanta or St. Louis would be better candidates.

    but anyway the 20th team needs to be between St. Louis, Atlanta or a Florida team

  15. RedStateJim says:

    Orlando is the 19th largest TV market in the USA. Salt lake is 34, Columbus is 32. Orlando is not Disney, it has a very diverse demographic with a fast growing population.

    The ownership group is a strong soccer ownership with ties in England; it is not a sports/entertainment ownership. I think that is good for MLS.

  16. PCFC says:

    Why does everyone say STL? STL was good 30 years ago. It’s a different city with no ownership group. They bombed hard with ACSTL and would bomb again without big money.

  17. PCFC says:

    Orlando is NOT 19th in the United States. Orlando-Dayton Beach-Melbourne is the 19th in the United States. That’s a big distance. Melbourne to Orlando is about the same distance as Tampa area to Orlando. Why not just combine all FL as one market then?

  18. Bradley's sons' son from the future says:

    exactly? Make this club as a general Florida team. Massive amounts of cash for them

  19. Bradley's sons' son from the future says:

    they are a hotbed of soccer fervor

  20. Stephen says:

    No one has yet mentioned the heat … not the NBA team, but the temperature. MLS is a summer league, and as a former Florida resident I can tell you people do not want to sit/stand in a blazing hot stadium in the middle of August.

    There’s also no good reason to put one MLS team in the southeast with no nearby rivals. They’d have to do at least two in one shot for it to make any sense.

  21. uncfan says:

    Tiger and Shaq dont mind living in Orlando. Why wouldnt a DP?

  22. uncfan says:

    You lose all credibility when you put Atlanta in the discussion. Consistently ranked one of the worst pro sports cities in the country.

    People do not get excited for anything other than SEC football.

  23. Dave says:

    Omar Bravo to SKC remains perhaps the best value-for-dollar for a DP that any non-LA/NY team has ever gotten. He was universally beloved in KC after only a season, and brought together a larger and more diverse group of soccer fans.

    We need more Omar Bravos.

  24. RedStateJim says:

    I said TV market in response to saying Orlando was a small TV market. You sir are an idiot for not knowing what YOU were discussing.

    It is the 26th largest Metro area with a population of 2.1 mill. That is a the drivable market of 30 miles from the stadium. Still LARGER THAN COLUMBUS, SALT LAKE AND KANSAS CITY

  25. Allan from Pittsburgh says:

    Also I think I read that there SSS would be a revamp of the Citrus Bowl not a built from the ground SSS.

  26. Sp says:

    Orlando would be a great MLS city. Couldn’t happen to a nicer place.

    And why in the world would Orlando struggle to get DPs? It’s a great area with entertainment galore. Its not sexy like LA or NYC but its prettier than most MLS cities. And just as hot as Houston or Dallas.

  27. Gnarls says:

    Whoa, easy there, Jim. Leave the name calling for kids.

  28. PCFC says:

    With a solid demographic of NCAA football fans and retirees.

    How many empty seats do you see when the superstar Heat play? How many tickets did the Rays have to give away for their playoff games? How many NFL games were blacked-out in Jacksonville and Tampa Bay? How many tickets did Miami ownership have to buy so that the Dolphins wouldn’t black out their games this year? How many empty seats did two-time World Series Champion Marlins have in their record-low attendances.

    Solid evidence for pro sports.

  29. PCFC says:

    They were a hotbed of soccer fervor. FYP

    Regardless, they have zero ownership power. Which is a requirement for MLS expansion.

  30. Eurosnob says:

    Under the currrent system, I agree that big money DPs will end up in big cities/markets. I will say, however, that in the old times George Best, a bigger star than most folks that you mentioned, played for teams in small cities: Fort Lauderdale and San Jose.

  31. Michael says:

    I want MLS to come to NYC, I want my Cosmos, but there’s no denying that Orlando are much, much further along, and at this point they’re the deserved prime candidates for Team 20. I hope they get a stadium solution figured out quick so we can enter them in the league by 2014 and no long have to deal with having an odd number of teams.

    I would be surprised if 24 wasn’t the target number, so I expect the Cosmos to be included in that span whenever it happens. They’d be smart to get an NASL team going in the meantime.

  32. Doubting Thomas says:

    I lived in Orlando at one time many years ago, so my immediate reaction was no way, this would be doomed to fail. I am starting to change my mind, although a little skeptical still. Here are some issues pro and con:
    – Games would have to be at night from May through mid October. Too hot and humid to play during the day, plus late afternoon thundershowers are a risk to keep fans away.
    – Impressive they’ve sold 3,500 season tix. Wow. Very good for NASL.
    – Thin corporate sponsorship community, unless Disney or Amway could be convinced to come big
    – SEC football and Orlando Magic make this a less crowded sports market than most
    – Timing. It is a lot easier to sell MLS now than when the Mutiny were in Tampa. ( I drove to Tampa for the Mutiny’s first game.) Never could be convinced to go back to a Mutiny game– too far, too many games at noon on Sunday, no atmosphere
    – Stadium. If they could put in a SSS near downtown or the basketball stadium, then this could become a hot ticket. The Citrus Bowl is in not far, but there was nothing around there but subsidized housing blocks and warehouses. Maybe that’s changed since then.
    – People in Orlando are hungry for the city to offer more things found in big cities. Many people have moved there from other places and seek cultural and entertainment options.

    This could work if done right.

  33. * says:

    europeans love orlando and the tigershaq. its not like its the middle of freaking nowhere like kansas city. besides, orlando mls would be idiots not to have friendlies w/real madrid or man u in tampa bay just 70 miles away.i predict 25k average first yr attendance at orl mls games, with a 3rd of that from the 2rd rate bay (my name for tampa bay….bay area being el numero uno). the cosmos talk is so overinflated. i just dont get it. it reminds me of how it seems like everyone on the internet is talking about alex jones….just weird a$$ crap that dont amount to a hill of beans

  34. PCFC says:

    This is one thing they do have…a lack of competition. But still, I’d favor Charleston as the southern team before Orlando.

  35. Travis says:

    to me, the bigger problem is the summer lightning storms. Fans don’t usually like to attend games that can be interupted, delayed, or cancelled on a regular basis.

    This is one reason the Marlins are really hoping their new retractable roof stadium will do so well. Though, to add to your point, the stadium also has some sort of climate control.

  36. alka246 says:

    Orlando? Why not Atlanta?

    Oh wait, Atlanta sucks.

  37. Crosebud says:

    If they build a Stadium in North Brooklyn or Long Island City Queens people will show up. Lots of people will show up. RBNY stadium is super-sweet but its hard to get to and its not visible at all to the average New Yorker. I am so ready for Cosmos to be the Yankees of MLS. Too much money Too good a team. Driving the rest of the country crazy!

  38. Here is the dark horse – Detroit.

    Silverdome is located right in the middle of all the Soccer activity in SE Michigan.

    link to sourcenewspapers.com

    They already have natural rivals with TFC, Chicago and Columbus. They have a ready made solution for a Soccer Specific Stadium.

  39. BamaMan says:

    I don’t think you’ll find anyone in any other Southern state who considers Orlando part of the South, much less Miami. Those are cities built almost exclusively around northern retirees (Miami) and out-of-state/country transplants (Miami and Orlando both). There is nothing Southern about either. I think Atlanta would support an MLS team. I think Birmingham would support an MLS team. Birmingham has a ready-made stadium solution in Hoover with the soon-to-be abandoned Regions Park. It hosted the NCAA Soccer Final Four this year and could be developed into an awesome SS-facility even more easily than Jeld-Wen was.

  40. Air Jordanz says:

    Every Brazilian I know freakin LOVES Disney World for some unfathomable reason.

  41. Air Jordanz says:

    If my Dynamo can play in Houston all summer, playing in Orlando shouldn’t be any more difficult.

  42. joblo says:

    Just lie to them and tell them its North Miami.

  43. Robin says:

    you must be a Man City supporter

  44. Joe Quake says:

    I totally agree with you on this point. The SSS in Miami or Orlando need to have retractable roofs or be all indoors. That really makes a big difference.

  45. BamaMan says:

    They won’t give up two bowl games that draw 70K+ and bring in millions upon millions in revenue to shrink the capacity of the Citrus Bowl. I’m telling you Portland discovered a great shortcut by redeveloping their minor league baseball stadium. Orlando has a basically vacant 10K minor league stadium and the Walt Disney World Complex. Spend $40-$50M to redevelop it into a true SSS. Much better than spending hundreds of millions.

  46. PCFC says:

    For vacation…

  47. Tommy says:

    Are you fricken kidding me about Orlando. There are so many other markets that are better suited for expansion. This is all about the money and the Disney name. How many people even when to that tournament they had over there.

  48. RAMONE says:

    “but my question is why did MLS award the 19th club to Montreal? Atlanta or St. Louis would be better candidates.”

    Old MLS expansion model : larger cities = more soccer moms = franchise target.

    New MLS expansion model : established clubs with stable ownership and a history of doing well at D2 level = franchise target.

    I am a Timber fan who loves to rub it in Flounder fans faces that they never cared about the team until they were MLS, but even I have to admit that Montreal had us all beaten as far as attendance and community support. Montreal outdrew Portland, Vancouver and Seattle EVERY year at the D2 level. They outdrew many established MLS teams (they average about 16-18k at D2 level).

    As for Atlanta and St. Louis, they had a string of failed USL franchises and poor attendance. I realize these cities are bigger and have MLB, NFL, NHL and NBA to compete against … but that may be exactly the point – the MLS teams doing the best seem to be in markets with only 1 or 2 other major sports teams to contend with. Some of those doing the poorest have 4 teams to contend with. It is tough to reward a city for having “big population and lots of youth participation” but with a recent history of disinterest in pro-soccer (albeit D2, still pro soccer) over cities who have a history of strong support for pro soccer.

  49. RAMONE says:

    Jeld-Wen (nee PGE park, nee Civic Stadium, nee Multnomah Stadium, nee Multnomah Field) in Portland was never really meant to be a baseball stadium. It was really a never finished U shaped stadium because the athletic club who owned it (which is the gigantic building at the south end when you look at it) could never purchase all of the property along the East side so it ended up being J shaped. Baseball was a retrofit too. Portland had another minor league baseball park but it was condemned in the 50s and the team had nowhere else to go. The stadium was retrofitted slopily for baseball (all the while football was being played there and soccer starting in the 1970s). Baseball moved out in the 1970s only to get another expansion club at the end of the 70s who then left again in the 90s. The stadium was revamped again in 2000 to update it for baseball so another minor league baseball team could come in but baseball wasn’t the most popular sport played there with the resurrection again of the Timbers.

    So, your statement is partially true … but that stadium was always a terrible baseball stadium with a very short but very high left field wall (similar to Fenway but no seats in the outfield and the entire first base line is a straight line of seating rather than angled to the mound/plate) and was really a retrofitted unfinished rectangular field stadium for baseball that was finally completed after 100 years.

  50. Red says:

    Yeah, lets add a tacky Florida city where tourism is the main industry, where there’s no real history of pro soccer down there, nothing concrete about a soccer specific stadium, and only one season in a DIII league where everything went right for them, because the mentally challenged mouth breathers in places like BigSoccer say so!

    Orlando as a deserving MLS market? F**k no!!!

  51. BamaMan says:

    I didn’t know all that history but I think the point is still true – it is easier to redevelop a minor league baseball stadium, especially one that was designed to accommodate football and baseball, than it is to build a SS Stadium from scratch. It’s also easier than redeveloping an American football stadium because you have to tear out bleachers and widen the playing field in that instance, while in baseball, you usually just have to enclose and improve existing seating. Not to mention how much easier it is to redevelop an existing stadium in terms of building permits, etc. vs. securing title to new land and everything else it takes to build a stadium from scratch. That’s the difference between Jeld-Wen costing tens of millions and BBVA Compass Stadium costing hundreds of millions. Jeld-Wen is the one teams need to be looking at.

  52. Andy says:

    Orlando is a city that is continually growing. And as someone said earlier it’s becoming less about the tourists and more about business people moving down there as industry grows. And something else that no one has brought up, Orlando has a large British expat community and I’m sure they would be dying to go see a live match after watching EPL in the morning at one of the many English pubs that are in and around the city. Also tons of college kids with UCF close by to latch on to. Other than the heat I think it makes a ton of sense.