Demographics have become one of the crucial elements of soccer’s rise in the United States. Major League Soccer expansion candidates look to place themselves into diverse population centers with significant numbers of both millennials and Latinos. Young millennials are more eager to turn away from foundational American sports to support soccer, while the link between Latinos and soccer should be historically obvious.
Not to diminish the importance of other demographics that have both grown and supported the sport in America, but these two groups have been seen as statistically significant in the United States for a while. MLS and Orlando City have long acknowledged their importance to their success.
I was thinking about this the other day while walking around the campus of the University of Central Florida. I’ve spent a lot of time at UCF over the past decade as both a student and now in my current role as an adjunct professor. I’ve seen the parade of English club shirts, watched games with various nationalities during World Cups, and chatted with students about their allegiances to clubs from South Africa, Chile, Croatia, and Japan.
Of course, recently I’ve seen a lot more purple on campus. In the form of jerseys, hoodies, and baseball caps, Orlando City has a presence on UCF’s campus.
Actually, passing a student wearing a purple kit from the first MLS season got me thinking about just how ripe UCF should be for Orlando City’s marketing team. With more than 66,000 students, UCF is one of the largest universities in the country. The average age on campus is 23 years old, nearly 25% of the students are Latino, and, most significantly, 91% of UCF students are from the state of Florida. I’ll do the math for you — that all translates to a significant number of people who fall into Orlando City’s target fan demographic living and learning 16 miles away from their stadium.
That’s not to say the club hasn’t reached out to UCF students. I’ve seen ticket representatives and the purple-adorned marketing vehicle giving away magnets on campus. Just thinking about the possibilities of making forever fans of a revolving door of future college graduates with disposable income from all around the state of Florida seems like something worth throwing your whole marketing department at. I can’t think of a club or a team that has such an opportunity anywhere else in the U.S.
If I were Orlando City I would be proselytizing the good word of soccer as eagerly as the numerous religious speakers who shout the word of god at passing students through megaphones on UCF’s campus daily. Well, I’d be a little subtler I suppose.
Certainly, entering into some kind of relationship with the university or its student-run institutions could do wonders for building the long-term fan base. Player appearances, watch parties, a student-run supporter’s group, giveaways, even playing an open friendly at Spectrum Stadium all could boost Orlando City’s profile on UCF’s demographic-rich campus.
I understand the counterargument. Orlando City Stadium sells out each week. Who needs to work that hard marketing to a group that right now isn’t as cash-flush as the people already attending games? That is, in the short run, very true. My thinking here is long-term. Finding a way to make Orlando City a part of young Floridians’ four years at college could equal a legion of lifetime fans.
UCF also happens to draw heavily from Florida’s urban areas, including Miami and Tampa. Don’t we owe it to the youth of this great state to send them home after four years with a great education and not let them have to sit around and wait for a team to maybe come to Miami or… even worse… let them become Rowdies fans?
Those are my thoughts. What say you, Orlando City front office?