Since the club’s arrival in 2011, Orlando City has gained a loyal following from those around Central Florida. During its four years in the USL, the club broke league records in both regular season and playoff attendance. To keep the hearts and minds of locals, the Lions must continue what they did Saturday and keep winning.
When Orlando City played in the USL, the games were fun. Adrian Heath’s attacking style ensured plenty of goals and the team won…a lot. In fact, it won five trophies in just those four seasons. The most famous game, and probably the one that had the biggest impact on the club’s popularity, was the 2013 USL Pro Championship Game, where the Lions defeated the Charlotte Eagles, 7-4. For those that weren’t into the sport or were attending their first game, Heath’s style and the team’s success gave them a reason to return.
Orlando City’s success ended with the 2014 USL season. Since joining MLS for 2015, the first team has yet to qualify for the postseason, and seems to get further away each year. Regardless of fan loyalty, it’s difficult for people to get excited about a team that appears to be out of contention by the all-star break.
While making the postseason would certainly help excite the fan base, winning at home is the most critical. People who attend games want to have fun and, to quote popular college football coach Dabo Swinney: “The fun is in the winning.”
In the four years that Orlando City played in the USL, points at home were almost a given. The Lions won 40 home games in those four seasons, only losing three and drawing nine. If you went to an Orlando City game in those years, you were almost guaranteed to see plenty of goals and a win by the local team. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?
Since joining MLS, wins at home have become much harder to come by. Orlando City has hovered around .500 each season so far, sandwiching a 6-4-7 record in 2016 between two 7-5-5 records in 2015 and 2017. It appeared as though the Lions would get over that hump last season when they won their first five home games. But they soon came back to earth, only winning two of their last 12 games in Orlando.
Starting this season with two home games, it appeared nothing had changed, with the team picking up just a point against D.C. United and losing to a Minnesota United team that finished ninth in the Western Conference last year. Saturday may have been a turning point though, with a seven-goal thriller and the Lions scoring late to win it.
While poor performances and results will hurt attendance, that doesn’t equate to fair-weather fans. People spend their hard-earned money to see these games and they want a product that is worthy of the price, just as they would with any form of entertainment. In fact, Orlando City fans have proven that they are anything but fair-weather as they have continually drawn well over 20,000 to see an inferior product week in and week out.
If Orlando City continues to struggle on the field, the club will start to see a string of reactions that could eventually result into what’s happening with another Orlando team: the Magic. First, fans get angry that the team is not performing as well as fans feel it should. But, after years of entering seasons knowing the team won’t compete, you end up with apathy. Once supporters become apathetic, it’s hard to win them back.
For Orlando City, avoiding an apathetic fan base must start now. As Justin Meram tweeted before Saturday afternoon’s game, many fans have already lost confidence in this team.
Drove by Orlando City fans and asked them if we were gonna win.... he said “prob not” Well it’s time to change the culture here! Let’s go boys— Justin Meram (@JustinMeram) March 31, 2018
Despite struggling on the field, fans from around Central Florida continue to flood into Orlando City Stadium to see the Lions play each home game. In order to keep the immense interest the club has had from the area, they must perform at home and compete throughout the season. The seven-goal affair Saturday afternoon was a good start.