This week lawmakers in Tallahassee have been considering a veto on a statewide funding package previously approved that would give Orlando City $30 million for their new downtown soccer specific stadium. This editorial from the Orlando Sentinel and this Facebook post by club founder and president Phil Rawlins explain the situation well enough. This funding is of course part of the larger package used to approve Orlando's stadium thereby helping the club clear the final hurdle into Major League Soccer.
While the Citrus Bowl has been a fantastic place for us this season, it is not and cannot be a long term solution for the club or its supporters.
First, While I'm sure Orlando City's hardworking ticket sales staff and club management would love to see 30,000 fans at every game, the truth is that isn't the business model of Orlando City or any MLS club. Right now, if you add all the possible portable bleachers and sell the party deck, the Orlando Citrus Bowl seats an impressive 65,194. This number would make it the second largest stadium in the English Premier League, behind only Manchester United's Old Trafford.
It would be the third biggest stadium in La Liga, behind only Barcelona's Camp Nou and Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabéu. This means, as of right now, Orlando City is playing in a bigger stadium than some of the world's biggest clubs, including Arsenal, Atlético Madrid, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Valencia CF.
While MLS and Orlando City have an ambitious business model, trying to fill a stadium fit for only one of the three or four biggest clubs on the planet is far fetched at this point.
The attendance and support the club has received in its inaugural campaign has been noting short of exceptional, and it has made team officials take a hard look at its original 19,500 seat stadium plans. Even with the outpouring of support, the honesty of running a successful business means you have to plan for a world in which you aren't an expansion team.
A soccer specific stadium, like the one now beginning construction with already approved funds from Tallahassee, is just as important for the supporters as it is for the club. Our game day experience relies on a number of things officials like to call amenities. As supporters, you and I, might call them necessities.
Covered seating: The club likes to talk about how this will push the fan noise on to the field, making for an excellent atmosphere. While that sounds fantastic, I also think about how many smaller crowds came out once the summer storms started hitting Orlando right around game time. Covered seating will make those of us who brave the storms a bit more comfortable and help the fans with children or older supporters make games they may of skipped.
A more intimate stadium means we don't have to bring in an MLS season record attendance average to have an intimate atmosphere. Right now the club is averaging right below the record average set by the Seattle Sounders -- around 42,000 in attendance. For a smaller market club, that is again probably more unrealistic.
The Citrus Bowl has been a fantastic home for Orlando City, I've made some great memories and great friends there and look forward to the rest of this season and a return for big games deserving a bigger venue. As a supporter, I want to watch my club week in and week out in a stadium built for the game they play, a stadium built with my experience in mind.
The arrival of Orlando City has given our much maligned town a focal point of civic pride. I will let the professionals argue the financial benefits a downtown soccer specific stadium will provide, as a supporter I understand the intangible value of a central hub located in downtown Orlando to express our growth as a community and a place for that amazing community to congregate and cheer for their city.