The official start to the 2023 MLS preseason is hours away, which means professional soccer will soon be back in Central Florida in the friendly confines of Exploria Stadium. This week, Orlando City formally announced the club’s preseason schedule.
For both die-hard supporters and the casual fan alike, access to the team in the preseason will once again be limited to a single event. Preseason open practices and matches feel like the perfect opportunity to engage a fan base and to drum up excitement heading into the beginning of the 2023 MLS season. Instead of increasing access to the team, Orlando City will be restricting it for the second year in a row by only offering the chance to see the team live in action during a single preseason scrimmage match on Saturday, Feb. 18 against the New England Revolution. South Florida rivals, Inter Miami, for comparison is allowing fans access to two of the Herons’ preseason matches this season.
In years past, exposure to the team seemed far more open and accessible, which in turn generated a certain type of positive buzz heading into the beginning of the season. Attendance continues to lag behind previous levels for Orlando City, and while there are multiple factors at play when it comes to filling Exploria Stadium, it does not seem that the club is doing enough to develop the type of anticipation in its fan base needed just weeks before the season is set to kick off. With access and exposure reduced to a trickle, fans not only lose out on the chance to renew their excitement for professional soccer but they also lose out on the ability to get a closer look at the players both returning and new to the squad.
As part of the club’s Kickoff to Soccer 2023 event schedule, Orlando City will also be hosting the 2023 jersey reveal the night of the preseason match against the New England Revolution, the Orlando Regional Spelling Bee, and the Purple Pride 5K. While staples of the preseason, these events combined with the solitary scrimmage open to the public feel underwhelming and lack the ability to create the type of excitement and bonds that the reigning U.S. Open Cup Champions deserve. Few who were there will ever forget the open training session and autograph session from the club’s early days in MLS, which helped foster a sense of unity between the players and fans, and events like the Kids vs. Pros were also fun ways in which the players endeared themselves to supporters.
By opening more preseason events to the public, whether that be in the form of more scrimmages, open practices, or even team meet-and-greets, OCSC would run the horrible risk of gaining more exposure those who call Central Florida home. These are ways the public can become more invested in the players on the current squad, but they also demonstrate that the club values its fans and wants to grow closer to the fan base. This can be a more powerful driver of attendance than the win-loss record.
The hope is that those who are exposed to the club for the first time during the preseason would enjoy the experience and in turn purchase tickets to a regular-season match, building on that positive reinforcement and leading them to become repeat supporters of the Lions or even season ticket members. Limiting those preseason opportunities minimizes the chance to grow the fan base and build a buzz heading into the season.
What do you think? Is one preseason scrimmage enough to wet your whistle until the season kicks off on Feb. 25? What type of events would you like to see the club put on to generate excitement and buzz during the preseason? Let us know in the comments below!