clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Our City: Orlando's Sports Landscape

As Orlando City prepares to enter its first season of Major League Soccer, how does the club's arrival at the top change the Orlando sports market and our experience as fans?

Our City is a weekly column focused on my perspective of Orlando City as a supporter. I would love to incorporate your ideas and stories, if you have something to add or a story idea please connect by commenting here or on Twitter: @kevinmercer225

On Friday night I had the good fortune to witness a nice win by the Orlando Magic. The question quickly turned to one that has been asked of me a number of times in the last few months -- what does Orlando City SC's arrival in the market as a top tier sports franchise mean?

Orlando City is not new to the city's sports landscape. The club's previous four seasons of success in the USL and the ability to draw a devoted and passionate crowd are two crucial reasons why the Lions are looking toward a season in Major League Soccer in 2015.

On the surface, Orlando's sports scene does not seem that complicated. The Magic and Lions are the two main draws, with college football's UCF Knights a distant, but slowly gaining third. The Orlando Solar Bears, a minor league hockey club in the East Coast Hockey League, also brings in a nice crowd.

The picture becomes slightly more knotty when you factor in NFL teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars, professional baseball and hockey with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Tampa Bay Lightning on the west coast, as well. Continue to factor in the college football alliances and out of region sports attachments and the local sports landscape becomes extremely complex.

This is the part where a recent graduate in sports management or business would tell you there is a contest for sports entertainment dollars. As a sports fan, however, I'm not really sure there is in Orlando or for the city's newest soccer franchise. Of course, we all have to make decisions on where and how to buy season tickets and individual game tickets, along with merchandise. In the grand economic landscape, these decisions aren't as cut and dry as they might come across in a textbook.

First, with different seasons the major competition for fan dollars will continue to come in the fall/ winter season sports. The Magic, Solar Bears, and Knights have long shared a season, along with high school football. The MLS's spring/ summer season (while annoying to die hard soccer fans) only puts the Lions in direct completion in the overlapping months.

Second, each fan base has a core that will only overlap casually. Put plainly, Orlando City needs to market to existing soccer fans in Central Florida, just as the Magic market to basketball fans. Much like a political campaign, there are base elements to each party that would never consider a candidate from an opposing party.

This means the competition for sports entertainment dollars only exists among the casual sports fan. Personally, these people are my favorites. They are open minded, interested in supporting local teams, and can eventually shift into the devoted hardcore base with a few emotional experiences that create attachments -- memorable wins, good seasons, championships, and players with dynamic personalities encourage the casual observers to form a deeper relationship with the club.

The most crucial clue to how Orlando's teams feel about the increased competition could probably best be understood through the photo op exchange of jerseys seen recently with Kaká and the Magic's Victor Oladipo and the Orlando Solar Bears' Scott Tanski. This traditional post-game soccer ritual is usually meant to be a way of leaving a heated battle on the field and showing there is no bad blood once the game is over.

In this case its more a pre-game peace offering from a collection of local clubs who know that as Orlando grows there is room for all of them -- that they collectively are creating Orlando into a sports town. At the end of the day, Orlando sports fans have proven to like winners (no surprise there), hard working teams, and are relatively patient.

Watching the Magic last night, with a quiet but very decent crowd, considering the team's present lack of success, I thought about how the two teams will relate to one another. The scene at the Amway Center is so different from anything you will find at the Orlando Citrus Bowl.

The NBA product focuses on a multimedia evening, in which every moment is scripted in an indoor environment. Orlando City games feature the organic experience from the open stadium to the supporters groups chants. MLS has focused on a grassroots supporter movement to provide the atmosphere.

Much like watching live music at an indoor concert venue and an open field festival. They are both extremely different experiences, but in the end they are both about music. They both provide a unique and memorable experience, much as I suspect the Orlando Magic and Orlando City will do for years to come.