After months of highlighting and advertising that Orlando City SC would be holding preseason down in Brazil, the club recently announced that it had nixed those plans and would instead be holding preseason in Orlando. In the grand scheme of things, that doesn't seem like a big issue, but for a club that is banking hard on the Brazilian market to become fans of Orlando City and to travel to Central Florida for games, the cancellation may end up being a disaster in the making.
The club has never made a secret of the fact that it wants to appeal to the Brazilian market as a part of its fan base. The desire to do this is based upon facts such as the 768,000 Brazilians who visited Orlando in 2014, and that Brazilians comprised the second largest nationality to visit Florida in the same period (Canadians, by the way are first, eh).
And when you include the fact that futebol is the number one sport in Brazil, the Orlando front office has certainly been headed in the right direction with its marketing efforts. So it makes sense that the Brazilian preseason tour was supposed to be a culmination of these efforts.
As of this writing, the Orlando City Brazil Facebook page has over 711,000 likes, which is an increase of over 500,000 likes compared to the team's English language page. With a Brazilian owner, in Flavio Augusto da Silva, and the recent appointment of Brazilian Alex Leitao, as the Chief Executive Officer, as well as the club's Brazilian talisman Kaka and rumors of even more Brazilian players joining the club, the franchise's success long term is firmly depending on capturing the hearts and minds of Brazilian fans.
In light of Head Coach Adrian Heath's remarks about the tour yesterday, clearly the Orlando City hierarchy were financially banking on increasing interest from Brazilian fans and were looking to use the preseason tour as an opportunity to drum up the number of Brazilians who come to Orlando and attend a match.
The increase in tourist dollars would help justify to the city and the county that they made the right decision in supporting the building of the new soccer-specific stadium in downtown Orlando. Without the preseason tour bringing the team to the people of Brazil, maybe all of the pieces that have been carefully put into place will develop a slight tarnish.
However in echoing the coach's words, I think the loss of the tour will be good for the club overall. As a team that will have to travel at least 750 miles for every away game, keeping the team in Orlando for preseason will help the players rest up in anticipation of the long season ahead.
Despite the nixing of the Brazil tour, the club has still managed to develop a strong bond between Brazil and Central Florida. Evidencing this, in the last six months, Fluminense and Corinthians -- two of the most well-supported teams in Brazil -- have come to town. Hundreds of Corinthians fans also attended an Orlando Magic game on Jan. 14, and watched their hero, GK Cassio Ramos, attempt the halftime, half-court challenge.
Besides bringing Brazilian fans to Orlando to watch soccer, another sporting franchise directly benefited from these soccer-generated tourism dollars. No one should discount the fact that this strong international partnership has developed and matured on the backs of the Lions' front office ,and only time will tell if the dream they are trying to achieve for soccer fans in The City Beautiful comes true.