Last week The Sunday Statistical Showdown looked at Orlando City's chances at making the playoffs. The argument centered around how OCSC has been playing an undefined form of soccer so far in 2016 and the hopes of the avid fan base for a playoff run in 2016 hinder on the Lions finding and identifying who they are as a team.
This week, I wanted to turn our gaze not to the team's on-field performance per se, but the performance (attendance) of the Orlando community.
Over the course of the 2015 season, the city of Orlando saw a lot of changes in the form of soccer coming to town as a professional sport at the highest level in North America. As the men's club moved from the lower division USL into Major League Soccer, Orlando also saw the introduction of the newly minted NWSL side, Orlando Pride, and the refurbishment of the now-Camping World Stadium, the current home of soccer in Orlando.
Through these additions over the past two years Orlando has become a hub for the beautiful game and even this weekend has seen one of the worlds largest soccer tournaments -- the Copa America Centenario -- grace Orlando with group stage matches. All of this may seem like it is happening so quickly, but the city has been paying back the decisions by MLS and the NWSL in spades.
First, through the 2015 season OCSC stood out after the first week with a rousing 62K-plus crowd for the opening match to Orlando's top flight soccer era. That large crowd led the men's club to being the second most attended team in MLS over the 2015 season, averaging over 32K in attendance per game. Considering the market size in Orlando when compared to some of the other teams, such as LA and the New York teams, Orlando seems to be a wonderful match for soccer.
This strong attendance has continued into the 2016 season, and even with Orlando currently playing, let's just say mediocre, the community has continued to show its backing. The opening match in 2016 versus Real Salt Lake saw another strong showing in attendance at 60K-plus, with the average so far in the 2016 MLS season hovering around 35K. Now, this is surely to come down a bit, considering there are no plans for the club's front office to completely open up the "old" Citrus Bowl this season, so do not be surprised to see the average settle closer to the 28K - 32K range at year's end. This, while a bit lower then the inaugural season, would still place Orlando as the second most popular destination in MLS, only trailing Seattle as the team also did last year.
Many wondered how this support for the men's game would transition to the NWSL team that entered into the fold this year. Well, that was settled in the home opener when Orlando set the NWSL record for attendance at 23,403. This, of course, would be a number that would fall over the next few matches, seeing the Pride attendance sit closer to 8,000 in the Seattle Reign match but even with an average around 8K, Orlando would be the second most popular NWSL team when using attendance as the measure for popularity.
This has all led to Orlando being able to bring the world stage to our front door with the Copa America in 2016 as well as other sporting events, such as, the NFL Pro Bowl and a Miami Dolphins preseason game. Yes, the traditional footballing sport, known as soccer here in North America, has now influenced the most powerful sporting business in our hemisphere and Orlando will reap the benefits.
Here is to hoping that the continued support for soccer in Orlando only grows and galvanizes in the future, so that more international tournaments and large competitions see Orlando as a prime destination -- not only for soccer, but for many other sports as well.