The renewal deadline for Orlando City season tickets has come and gone, and I’ve renewed without much hesitation. If you read this column much, you know my support might be frustrating but it is also unwavering. I’ve waited a lifetime to have a home team of my own, and seasons are always temporal. This poor season too shall pass.
What did seem to change on renewal day was that I’ll be supporting with fewer friends and strangers next season.
Anecdotally, via social media, I have seen a number of polls running around a 50% renewal rate. More interesting were some of the more passionate voices on Orlando City’s Twitter haven’t renewed. Each situation is of course different, and I wouldn’t dare to draw a massive conclusion. The only people who know the renewal rate are in the front office.
Closer to home, and my seats, are the loss of nearly half of the group of 20 who I’ve been sitting with since the first USL season. This loose confederation of friends and friends of friends has been attending and supporting together for eight seasons. We toasted championships with post-game chocolate chip cookies, we’ve tailgated, we’ve traveled. On the cusp of Orlando’s first MLS game, we sadly had to bury one of our own. A combination of this season, the ticket office never being able to get all of us seated together in the new stadium, and personal decisions will now reduce our group by about half. While I’m disappointed, as a friend I understand.
The 2018 season will become a milestone season for all the wrong reasons, but one we will always reference. Whatever happens next, this is the season that we lost a significant batch of supporters. Filling those seats next season will be harder than ever. Anyone who has survived a customer service seminar can repeat the old adage that it takes six times as much effort (and money) to bring in a new customer as it does to keep an existing one.
That leads Orlando into the unknown in 2019, needing to do more than simply compete but to respark the passions of an army of the disillusioned. With five games left in the season, it feels premature to work the transfer wires in search of our next shot at soccer salvation. Still, the phone lines between the front office and the scouting network had better be showing some increased activity. Additionally, new manager James O’Connor and crew should be looking deeply — spiritually — at the players from the 2018 rebuild and see what fits into his vision.
Personally, and I know this is really debatable, I think there is talent worth keeping on this roster and I think a stable off-season and consistency with a sprinkling of new talent can go a long way with this club.
I spoke earlier that this season feels like a milestone, albeit a negative one. Where we go from here revolves around the front office taking responsibility for how this season has gone and learning from this. Orlando has built something special here, but it isn’t invulnerable and needs to be continually nurtured. Specifically with wins and trophies.
Whatever happens next season, I know at least I’ll be there in the stadium to see it. I hope I’m not alone.