[Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct some information that wasn’t presented as accurately as it should have been. The number of Orlando City license plate sales needed to initiate production was presented as the approximate number of OCSC season ticket members. I apologize for not catching it during the editing process before it went live. — TML Managing Editor Michael Citro].
Two weeks ago, I wrote an article outlining a lack of transparency from the Orlando City organization. Later that night, I received an invitation from Orlando City SC President of Business Operations Jarrod Dillon to come discuss the topics I raised in the article. I, along with my wife, took the opportunity to travel to Exploria Stadium to talk with Dillon and two of his staff to see what plans the club has for addressing the concerns of those who support Orlando City, the Orlando Pride, and OCB.
It should be said that Dillon has only been on the job for about one month at this point. He has been figuring out what resources are available, what has been done previously, and where the opportunities for improvement are to be found. One could be forgiven for suspecting he was annoyed with the issues I brought up, but it was quite the opposite. He saw an opportunity to get more information to help him do his job better, and in return communicate to me some of the ways he intends to make improvements. He was generous with his time given his position in the organization. Indeed, he delayed a meeting with an executive vice president for about 10 minutes near the end of our time to make sure we finished our discussion.
He was joined by Senior Vice President of Marketing & Brand Pedro Araujo and Senior Director of Ticket Operations & Analytics Mike Yannuzzi. Both gentlemen were incredibly welcoming and engaging as well. Honestly, I came away from the meeting with a feeling that Dillon and his staff are genuinely interested in hearing both the good and the bad regarding the organization’s performance to this point. Given the timing of the meeting, some of what we spoke about has already been announced. Let’s delve into what was covered.
Perhaps the biggest complaint I had in my article was that the preseason matches and practices were closed to the public and mostly closed to the press. Initially, we were given no reason for this, which can be a source of frustration. The reasons given for keeping the matches closed included the following:
- The opponents wanted the match closed.
- The matches aren’t like normal matches, more like practices or scrimmages.
- The matches are often at odd times during the day.
I’m certain you’re already aware that the match against the Colorado Rapids on Feb. 11 is now open to the public. The club is using it as a charity event for the Parramore community as well. It’s a good step and should be applauded, and more importantly, attended. Those in the supporters groups and the season ticket members (STMs) will also have the opportunity to attend the preseason matches against FC Dallas and Miami FC.
“They are opportunities for us to connect with our fans,” Dillon said.
These moves, along with greater press access, show the club is listening to feedback and responding.
Of course, those of us who support the club wish all of the matches and practices were open, but that simply isn’t going to happen. Case in point: the preseason match against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. It’s the last preseason match and both teams will be playing more of their younger players, rather than the starters. It is expected to be much more of a practice-style than match-style affair. As such, OCSC did not want it open to the public. It’s a no go for this year, but points I made about what it could be in the future didn’t go unheard. As it is so often in sports, there is always next year.
Another topic that came up in our conversation was the differences between the various types of supporters and how to meet the different needs of each group. There are the corporate sponsors, civic leaders, community leaders, suite holders, supporters groups, STMs, passionate non-STMs, casual fans, and those who are attending their first match ever.
“We acknowledge the need to do a better job of listening and acting upon feedback,” Dillon said. “We offer regular surveys and we do study the results, and now we need to look to add other avenues to hear what these groups want, and how we can improve their match day experience and relationship with the club.”
Sharing feedback I’d received privately, I made sure that Dillon and his staff understood the need to treat these groups in different but equitable ways. Talking to Iron Lion Firm, The Ruckus, and the Black Swans is not the same as talking to other STMs. Corporate sponsors are looking for different things than casual fans. This was a point of emphasis in our conversation, and I think people will start seeing the more individualized communications going forward. To be clear, this is something I think they already knew, but was made clearer during our conversation.
Regardless of which group you fall into, Dillon’s mission is to ensure each person attending a match has a world class experience.
“Everyone has different wants and needs,” he said. “We realize and respect that each of these groups, and others, have strong feelings about their match day experience, ticket locations and value propositions. It is important to treat each group’s needs separately, and not try to create a catch all to cover everyone the same. We will get better, and we will do it quickly.”
That means each point of contact needs to be as positive as possible, from security, the ticket takers, and the concession workers, to the people at the top. To that goal, Dillon said he will implement a new training program for staff across the organization, addressing the customer experience. All full-time staff will learn other parts of the business, shadowing someone else and seeing what their job is during a match. And he emphasized that he means all full time-staff, including himself.
“I’m a firm believer that the better job we take care of our employees, the better they’re going to take care of our fans,” he said.
The other big news is the creation of a new guest relations position. This new position will report directly to Araujo, and thus will be watched closely by Dillon as well. Previously, all the different areas of guest relations from the STM representatives to the janitorial staff were in separate areas of the company structure. Now, there will be someone who will integrate all of it so that there is consistency throughout the organization when it comes to guest relations.
“Guest Experience will be a major focus for us,” Dillon said. “In fact, we are hiring and dedicating a full-time leadership position to get this started the right way. We will work to implement customer service and guest experience training across all staff, part-time, full-time, and include our service partners in security, food/beverage, etc.”
In response to my article, I heard a lot of people bemoan the lack of tailgating experience since the move to Exploria Stadium. There are many valid reasons for this, including acquiring land or property, dealing with zoning issues, and frankly just having the desire and means to do all of it.
I was assured that the Wilf family wants to create a better tailgating experience, but that is going to take time. Just think about how long it takes an individual to buy property and build a house. Now expand that to the area surrounding the stadium. Patience is the word of the day for a better stadium tailgating situation.
“We have data suggesting our fans would like more tailgating options, so yes we are highly engaged around what that could look like,” Dillon said. “We will be exploring several options to be able to offer this, but (it’s) most likely not a 2022 season project.”
For those readers who are STMs or are interested in becoming one, there is good news on that front. As I mentioned in the previous article, the welcome kit has improved since the lows it hit from 2016-2018. In fact, if you look at the current website, you’ll notice it mentions an Orlando City specialty license plate. I have confirmation that the club will be effectively reimbursing the cost of the state-issued Orlando City license plate.
The threshold needed for the state of Florida to produce the plate is 3,000, so due to there being more than 3,000 season ticket members, this is great news for those of us who have put in our pre-order for the plate — whether an STM or not. It also puts the Orlando City brand on more than 3,000 cars. To quote Ted Lasso, “Yeah, that’s when sports and art combine, as far as I’m concerned.”
[UPDATE: All STMs will receive instructions on the process of getting the specialty plate, as well as a mini version of the plate in their STM box. STM boxes may run late due to supply chain issues that are plaguing many industries during this time.]
This is not the only change coming for those who invest their money to become a STM. It will take time, but the club is in the process of meeting with focus groups consisting of STMs and the supporters groups to determine how the club can be better. The reason that Dillon calls these people season ticket members rather than season ticket holders is that membership means more.
“STM benefits are under review and we will look to build upon the great benefits we offer now to continue to enhance the STM experience,” Dillon said. “We know our STMs get access to the best seats, with a great discount and very flexible payment plan. They also have access to other benefits but we need to grow that list and make the benefits more impactful.”
That will most likely include greater frequency and quality of events throughout the year. The supporters groups have already built a community, now the club wants to help STMs who are not in one of those groups to do the same. He said he wants the STMs to have a sense of community with each other and with the club.
There will almost certainly be more benefits coming. According to Dillon, the club is looking to increase the return on investment that the STMs make with their money. That includes looking at discounts on concessions, what items come in the welcome packet, and other things that come up in the focus groups.
As you can tell, there is a lot the general public hasn’t yet been made aware of going on behind the scenes, but change is coming. As Dillon put it, if a windmill has been spinning one direction, it will take quite a bit of effort to get it spinning the other way. The important thing is that the club is listening. It’s only been a month since Dillon arrived and he’s already having meetings with those who support the club on an individual ticket level.
“We will approach the clubs as if we are running public trusts,” he said. “Our mindset will be these clubs belong to the supporter groups, the STMs, our corporate partners and suite holders, and the community as a whole. We need to acknowledge each of these groups are different in what they want, value and find important to them. We need to be better listeners to address their needs. We are blessed to have the best supporter groups in our leagues, and we need to magnify that, it creates such a home field advantage for our players.
“Some of this will take time. You will see consistent change, innovation, and progress, but it will take time and will not all happen overnight. I am a true believer that people don’t care what you know, until they know you care. We need to double down and reinvest our time, energy, and resources into making sure all of our supporters, fans, partners all know we care.”
I’m by no means saying everything is solved or that we shouldn’t continue to hold the club accountable. Of course we should, but the signs of good things to come are there.