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Our City: Orlando Ownership Doubles Down on Stadium

Friday afternoon brought the surprise announcement that Orlando City would privately fund its new soccer specific stadium. If that was an available option, why all the political battles over the years?

The plan for today's column was to write about the mess happening with FIFA. The sad, complicated, disappointing mess that is the governing body of the sport we all love. On Friday, Orlando City's Chairman & Majority Owner Flávio Augusto da Silva and Founder and President Phil Rawlins held a press conference to announce the club's new stadium would become a privately funded venture, thus saving me from writing about the dark side of soccer and reminding all of us how blessed we are to have a fantastic ownership group in charge of our club.

After a long, protracted political battle to get funding for the stadium, this reverse course was a bit of a surprise to a lot of us. Many people approached me after the announcement with comments like "if they could fund it the whole time, why did we have all the political activity to try and make it publicly funded?"

I see a number of positives from the political action it took to create public funding for the stadium, that the club is now leaving on the table. I can't argue there was some master plan here, that this was the deal all along -- far from it. I think what has happened here has been more of a process, one that the long, drawn out political fight was an integral part of.

First, the political wrangling with state, county, and city politicians showed that there is a will in the community for the club. If da Silva and Rawlins had just thrown the money on the MLS table, it wouldn't have shown anything but the fact that we have owners with deep pockets and a third division team with good attendance numbers.

Having the full support of local officials makes the club deeply entrenched in the community. It also has built good relationships with local officials. Relationships that will come in handy down the road.

Second, da Silva and Rawlins are front and center in the public eye. To sell Orlando City to MLS and local officials, they had to sell it to us first. Not me, I'd still be there, wearing purple, if they dropped down a division, but I'm a lifelong soccer fan, so I wasn't the hard sell.

Da Silva and Rawlins had to sell their vision to all of Orlando -- to the guy sitting in front of me at the stadium still asking for clarification on the offside rule, to my neighbor with two Orlando City magnets who still hopes to get to a game one of these days. The political battle was a chance for a Brazilian and an Englishman to stand in front of all of us and insist they had our community at the heart of their plans.

With the stadium plans in place and the community sold on the vision of the club, fans came out in unanticipated numbers. We filled the bowl and we kept on keeping it topped off all season. That has everything to do with the vision of the club that has been expressed by da Silva and Rawlins.

Sure, we like Kaká and the boys, but let's face it, the product on the field is still a work in progress. For this first season, the stands are filled with visionaries, fans who are buying into the long term dream of the team, not its instant success.

Our support has allowed for the vision to change. As business owners, da Silva and Rawlins understand what our attendance numbers mean -- that owning the stadium is a good investment. When you go to investors and banks to ask for the significant loan Orlando City has asked for, you can't do it without good numbers to back up your investment. If the club were hosting an MLS average 20,678, you don't get the money to privately fund your stadium -- plain and simple.

Finally, there is one more factor that comes into play. The run up to Orlando's MLS bid was during the tail end of one of the worst economic times in recent history. Private money for the level of investment just did not exist. As the political battles show, even public money was hard to come by. This announcement has everything to do with timing as well.

Years of political battles have brought us to this point, and we wouldn't be here without the challenges of those debates in the halls of Tallahassee and Orlando. These debates have taught the community the value of the team to the area, they have shown the civic pride a club like Orlando City can provide. They also showed us that da Silva and Rawlins were probably the best politicians in any of those debates. Go City!