Seems like we've done this before, oh wait we have, just a few weeks back, when the Florida legislature failed to vote on the already-passed funding package that included some of the money for Orlando City's stadium. After a nice win against LA Galaxy in front of an impressive crowd -- just a touch above 40,000 -- some local (non-soccer) journalists and even some Orlando City supporters have begun calling for the club to stay in the Orlando Citrus Bowl or build a much bigger stadium than originally planned.
I am here to say both camps are willfully misguided.
The impressive attendance numbers this season, with one sellout of over 62,000 and an overall average attendance of 37,446. Without the sellout averaged into the season totals, the club is still averaging an impressive 32,433. Good numbers that I'm sure have made Orlando City, Major League Soccer, and county and city officials all very happy. None of them have, however, come out in favor of a bigger stadium or the continued use of the Orlando Citrus Bowl.
They understand that, like any business, when you first open your doors you are going to have some increased foot traffic. At the opening of a new trendy grocery store in your neighborhood, you will get some increased foot traffic from the novelty and the curious during the first few months you are open. While this bodes well for the business's long term health and gives it an opportunity to develop a clientele, you don't build for opening day. You build for the long term.
What size building will give your customers the best experience while being easiest to operate? Building too large of a retail space means eventually you will have empty shelves without the demand for the goods to fill them.
The same thing happens if Orlando City continues to play at the Citrus Bowl or builds too big of a soccer stadium. Fast forward a number of seasons, and some of the novelty wears out or the club suffers an off year, and all of a sudden that massive stadium looks horribly empty or the Citrus Bowl feels even less intimate than it already does.
Heaven forbid Orlando suffers a season of average attendance -- last year's in MLS was 19,151. That number doesn't fill the lower bowl of the Citrus Bowl and it looks very empty in the massive 30 or 40 thousand seat stadiums so many Orlando City fans are demanding. That number looks and feels fantastic in a 20,000-seat stadium.
I'm an Orlando City supporter since the opening whistle of the opening season, so the impressive numbers make me swell with pride as much as anybody. The fact that my city and my club look great in the national spotlight make me purple with happiness.
Because I'm a supporter, I also care about the long term health of the club. Phil Rawlins and company spent multiple years studying other MLS markets and their stadiums. They came back to Orlando with the right vision for the city and club for the long term. We should build them the stadium they asked for, not the one we think they need after six home games.
I hope Orlando's inaugural campaign continues to be successful. I can't wait to see how packed the Citrus Bowl can get for the team's first playoff game. I also can't wait to see the club next season, and the season after that one.
When people talk about Orlando, I want soccer and our club to be one of the first things they think of. I want all the new clubs coming into the league in the next few years to wish they were as successful as us. I want to hear that contingents of Atlanta, LA, Minneapolis, and maybe even Miami club executives are touring our facilities the way Orlando's front office toured Kansas City, Houston, and Portland. I want them to walk away wishing they were us, because we got it all exactly right.
The status quo or overbuilding are exactly wrong. Stay the course my friends, and Go City!