On Nov. 29, Orlando City announced that OCB, the club’s reserve team that plays in the USL, would join the MLS team and the Orlando Pride of the NWSL in the new stadium set to open in the coming months. The team played its inaugural season in 2016 at Titan Soccer Complex on the campus of Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne, but many expected this move to come when the new stadium was ready to open. What does this move mean for OCB? What impact will it actually have on the team and on attendance?
First, let’s look at the impact this move will have on the team itself. The process of getting OCB players to their home games in Melbourne included loading buses that would carry the team to their new home. However, from the training facility at Sylvan Lake Park to Melbourne is a trek lasting nearly an hour and a half. Even with the new facility being built in Lake Nona, the trip by bus would be over an hour.
By moving the team into downtown Orlando, the players will no longer need to take a bus to the game — the players can drive themselves. However, if they did decide to meet at the training facility and travel as a team to home games, the new stadium sits right between the team’s current training facility in Sylvan Lake Park and the forthcoming new facility in Lake Nona, with both trips only lasting around 30 minutes.
Clearly, the team benefits travel wise from playing in the new stadium, but what about attendance? OCB struggled to draw the crowds in Melbourne that the club hoped for, averaging 958 fans per game, but would it really be that much better in Orlando?
The only way to judge how OCB might do with attendance in 2017 is to look at the teams that had a similar set up in 2016. Of the 11 MLS clubs that have reserve teams playing in the USL, only six have their teams playing either downtown or near where the MLS team plays. Of those six teams, only two share stadiums with their senior teams.
Real Monarchs SLC, the reserve team of Real Salt Lake, play their home games at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, UT, the home of RSL. Last season they saw an attendance average of 2,528. That was good enough to rank 13th in the league. The other team that played in an MLS stadium was New York Red Bulls II, who averaged 589 fans per game at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ.
But neither of these teams played in the cities that they represent. In fact, of the 11 MLS-owned teams in the USL in 2016, only three played in the cities they represent: Portland Timbers 2, Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, and Swope Park Rangers. Of these three teams, Portland Timbers 2 drew the highest attendance with 2,323 fans per game. The Whitecaps averaged just 1,779 fans and Swope Park Rangers, the reserve team of Sporting Kansas City, drew 1,753.
So, looking at these numbers, it is possible that OCB could draw higher attendance numbers than in Melbourne in 2016. However, that number is very unlikely to be a significant increase. Regardless of the team name or where it plays, fans know that these MLS-owned USL teams are reserve teams and tend to be far less interested in attending games. That trend will not change in Orlando next season.
Obviously, regardless of what the club says, OCB is a reserve team and is meant only to develop players for the next level. So the number of fans that attend games is of minimal importance. Overall, the fact that it’s easier for the players and staff to travel to downtown Orlando is easier than transferring everything to Melbourne makes this a wise decision. Also, giving the young academy products the opportunity to play on the same field and in the same stadium as the senior team may be positive as it may give them a view of the next level. We’ll see how well these estimates work when the team takes the field next April in the new stadium.