Kaká came to Orlando City SC in 2015 with a long list of roles to fill, both on and off the field. One of them was to be the centerpiece of the club’s strategy to explore the market in Brazil, a country that is passionate about soccer and pays much attention to what happens in the United States.
The strategy seemed extremely logical because of several factors. The first of them was Flavio Augusto da Silva, Orlando City’s Brazilian owner, and his obvious connections with the country. Besides that, Orlando is a very popular touristic destination for Brazilians in the United States and has a large Brazilian community.
Kaká’s arrival was not only the cherry on the top of the sundae, but also a huge boost in the club’s plan to be recognized (and somehow loved) in Brazil. With his charisma and the respect he earns in the country, the midfielder was the perfect ambassador for the Lions in his home country.
Because of his presence, many Brazilians first knew Orlando City was “Kaká’s club in the United States.” Thanks to him, Orlando City had a huge amount of its games over the last three years broadcast to Brazil every weekend — many more than any other MLS club. The captain was also very active in promoting the club in interviews and TV shows in the country, especially during the off-season.
It was also usual to see groups of Brazilian fans attending Orlando City games while on vacation in Florida and even some Lions jerseys in the streets of Brazil’s biggest cities.
The club did not rely only on Kaka’s profile, playing friendly matches against Brazilian clubs such as Flamengo, Fluminense, São Paulo, Ponte Preta and Bahia. Another successful strategy was to create Portuguese pages of its website and social media channels. Orlando City’s Portuguese Facebook page, for example, has more followers than the original English version.
But now, with Kaká leaving Orlando, what is going to happen?
The first and obvious conclusion is that Orlando won’t find a better face to strengthen its connection with Brazil. The two Brazilians Orlando has on its roster (Victor ‘PC’ Giro and Leo Pereira) are not familiar faces in the country and, outside of Neymar, no other player is as popular as Kaká, who is admired by supporters of every Brazilian team even despite his roots with São Paulo.
Getting new Brazilian enthusiasts will definitely be harder for Orlando City in 2018, but the club has a good shot at keeping the ones it already has. Putting a competitive team on the field and keeping the initiatives the club promotes off the field should be enough to keep the Lions as a popular team in a country with some of the most passionate soccer fans in the world.