Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber officially announced last week that Orlando City Stadium will be hosting the 2019 MLS All-Star Game. The event, and those like it, provides an excellent opportunity for the club to grow.
As well supported as Orlando City is, especially for the market, it’s still a small club on a global scale. While MLS continues to grow in popularity, many soccer-loving Americans ignore their own domestic league in favor of the glamorous European clubs. Whether it’s an All-Star Game or international friendlies, hosting well-known European clubs in Orlando will only help to grow the club.
When Phil Rawlins launched Orlando City in 2010, part of his plan for the club’s growth was to bring in well-known European sides to face the third division team. During the club’s inaugural season in 2011, the team faced off with Premier League clubs Bolton Wanderers and Newcastle United. Over the next five years, the team faced Stoke City, AS Roma, Fluminense FC, São Paulo FC, and West Bromwich Albion. In November of 2015, the Lions even made a trip to Brazil, where they took the field with the most popular club in Brazil, Flamengo, in the world-famous Maracanã.
These games were a nice reward for Orlando City fans that were following their local club as they played in the country’s third division and later moved up to the top flight. They also served as an excellent marketing tool. People who had never heard of Orlando City were attending these games to see the opponents and were becoming aware of this fledgling club.
Now that Orlando City plays in MLS, awareness is no longer an issue. But there are still plenty of people in Central Florida who have yet to embrace the club. That’s where the 2019 MLS All-Star Game will help. After playing international friendlies in each of the club’s first six seasons, the club has kept its schedules in the past two seasons to preseason, league, and cup games. The All-Star Game will mark the arrival of a big European club, likely one much bigger than Orlando City has ever faced. That will likely bring fans in who have never been to Orlando City Stadium.
This event will be a bit different than international friendlies as it won’t be Orlando City playing, but it will still have a similar impact. If people attend the game and enjoy their experience at Orlando City Stadium, which will be difficult not to do, they may return for an Orlando City game if they haven’t already. Whether it’s attending a few games a year or watching the club on television, this will help the club grow.
Despite the product on the field, Orlando City fans are fortunate as the club boasts an MLS side, an NWSL side, a USL Division III side, and has its own soccer-specific stadium. The stronger the club’s fan base throughout Central Florida, the better off the club will be in the future, especially if the league’s single-entity structure eventually collapses. There are a lot of reasons why Orlando hosting the 2019 MLS All-Star Game is a good thing, but none are more important than the potential growth of the club.