Along with Seattle, Orlando City has been a standard-bearer for attendance numbers in MLS since joining the league in 2015.
While Seattle has far and away the highest average attendance over that time period (43,441 across 2015 and 2016), Orlando City has been second in the league with a two-year average of 32,085, a few thousand ahead of expansion rival NYCFC’s 28,106. With the Lions moving into a new, smaller stadium this season, however, their attendance numbers are guaranteed to take a dip.
But despite what will be a numerical decline, Orlando City will almost undoubtedly enjoy an even stronger home-field advantage at its new digs than it did during two seasons at the Citrus Bowl/Camping World Stadium.
The Lions’ new stadium will have a capacity of 25,500 fans, making it impossible to match the 32,085 average attendance number from the last two seasons, much less the sellout crowds of 62,510 and 60,147 the club managed for its two MLS season-openers. But if City sells out its new ground for all 17 matches in ’17, its 25,500 average would be more than enough for an electric atmosphere — that number would have ranked fourth in the league for average attendance in 2016 if you remove OCSC’s figures from CWS.
Although the crowds will be smaller in terms of sheer numbers, the new stadium will make for a more intimate experience with the seats closer to the pitch, not to mention the canopy on the stadium that will reverberate noise back down onto the field of play. The loss of several thousand fans sitting on the mezzanine level or standing on the plaza deck at the old stadium will ultimately result in a gain in terms of atmosphere thanks to the design of the new house.
For an example of what to expect, Orlando City fans can look to Portland for an example.
Providence Park has a capacity of 21,144, and Portland’s average attendance for 2016 was exactly that, as it sold out all of its home matches. That figure put the Timbers at No. 7 in 2016 MLS average attendance, but it’s every bit as difficult of a venue — if not more — for visiting teams as any of the larger stadiums above it in the rankings.
The Lions faithful have provided nothing but exceptional support, so there’s no reason to believe that Orlando City won’t enjoy a similar type of home-field advantage in its new stadium in 2017, numbers be damned.