Saga of Orlando tweaks expansion candidates

By Ridge Mahoney

There's more at play in the speedy progress of an MLS Orlando City franchise than returning the league to Florida is it grows toward its stated goal of 24 teams by 2020.

A message has been sent to other prospective expansion cites is, and that message is: You're on the clock.

“We thank the Orange County and City of Orlando Board of Commissioners for their support to build a soccer-specific stadium in downtown Orlando,” MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott said in a statement announcing the last political hurdle had been cleared by a 5-2 vote on Tuesday. “We also would like to thank [owners] Flavio Augusto da Silva, Phil Rawlins and their staff for their passion and commitment to bring a Major League Soccer team to Orlando.

"We look forward to working with the Orlando City SC ownership group to finalize an expansion agreement.”

The vote authorized the use of $20 million in tourism taxes to help fund the $84 million project. Once an expansion agreement – which would include the fee – is negotiated, construction is expected to start on the stadium for completion in time for the 2015 season. Orlando City has won two USL PRO titles in the past three seasons, and more than 20,000 fans came to the Citrus Bowl in September to watch the Lions thrash Charlotte, 7-4, in the championship game.

“I think Orlando is a great marketplace for MLS,” said Rawlins to the Associated Press. “It's proven that with the support it has in the minor leagues. I know the city is very anxious for a second major sports team and MLS is excited about expansion in the southeast. ... So I felt confident we could make that happen in that time frame.”

The message will also be heard by New York City FC, which is supposed to commence play in 2015 but has yet to nail down a stadium site much less a funding plan. There’s plenty going on behind the scenes regarding NYCFC, for sure, though the Cosmos made the local news this week by announcing the contract of Coach Giovanni Savarese has been extended. (Orlando City also deserves kudos for using SC, i.e. Soccer Club, instead of FC.)

As of now, NYCFC will probably have to play at least one season in an alternative facility, presumably Yankee Stadium, while its own stadium is completed. MLS has been criticized for fast-tracking a New York team and ignoring efforts in other cities to jump on the expansion train, yet it can justifiably point to Orlando’s accomplishments and say, in effect, “Match this.”

Yet if the league adds both Orlando City SC and New York City FC in 2015, and both presumably play in the Eastern Conference, it will again be stuck with an odd number of teams (21), necessitating bye dates and other logistical snarls. It could solve two problems by moving Houston and one other team to the Western Conference and terminating the operation agreement in force with Chivas USA, leaving it with 20 teams equally split between the conferences, but the league has stated repeatedly it won’t take such action regarding Chivas USA unless the situation becomes untenable.

MLS could delay the entry of NYCFC for a season, adding Orlando City and moving one team west while keeping Chivas USA. The move would be practical but a public-relations disaster, and also cost the league a valuable chip as it negotiates new TV deals – which are set to expire at the end of the 2014 season – as well as a priceless market irreplaceable in just about every facet, from sponsors to Designated Players.

The addition of Orlando also applies pressure on whatever is going on with Miami. Reports resurface every few weeks regarding a developing partnership of David Beckham and Bolivian businessman Marcelo Claure. Another flurry came last week from a report that Dolphins president Steve Ross would use his company, RSE Ventures, to provide marketing services and perhaps rent out Sun Life Stadium as a temporary home for an MLS team.

That’s more opportunism than entrepreneurship, and not quite the same thing as putting money into the team itself, which Ross has mentioned in the past as a possibility. Yet pairing Orlando and Miami as joint forces in Florida fits many of the league’s practical needs: scheduling, rivalries, untapped markets, increased TV footprint, etc.

Bringing aboard another NFL owner even in such a limited capacity could open the doors a crack for Atlanta. Falcons owner Stu Blank has been in the loop for a while, though the market – while large (population of about 4 million in the city and nine nearest counties) and growing -– is affected by a dip in housing sales and other troubling factors.

Does Atlanta stay in play if Miami joins Orlando in the near future, or do other cites move up in the race? Those questions stem from the success of Orlando, which so far has come up with all the right answers.
9 comments about "Saga of Orlando tweaks expansion candidates".
  1. Footballer Forever, October 23, 2013 at 5:46 p.m.

    "(Orlando City also deserves kudos for using SC, i.e. Soccer Club, instead of FC.) "

    Why? Are you a xenophobic NFL loving American that you can't stand the fact that "soccer" is known as football. You are joke "soccer " journalist with all due respect. You sound like your compadre "Paul ardner" on a previous quote about NYCFC when he questioned: "What then is Major League Soccer doing when it allows its clubs to use those FC letters? It already has four FC clubs. It should be telling those clubs to switch to an SC designation, not adding a fifth football club....Now the last time I checked -- which was this morning, this is New York we’re dealing with, and you never know -- there were already two long-established and highly successful local football clubs: The New York Giants, and the New York Jets. They belong to a body known as the National Football League. There are no soccer clubs operating within the NFL."

    Stick to being an eggball reporter if you are such zealous/xenophobic closed minded American! If you can't understand /accept soccer is football around the world, I am sure that same feeling may transalate to other races/ethnicities that don't think/feel the way you do.

  2. Allan Lindh, October 23, 2013 at 5:47 p.m.

    Time they learned to spell the R word, RELEGATION. Would take care of the Chivas problem, make the bottom tier teams far more interesting to watch. Of course it won't be easy, but they should just do it in 2015 when they switch to fall/spring schedule, expand, get new TV contract, etc.

  3. Footballer Forever, October 23, 2013 at 5:55 p.m.

    @ Allan Lindh

    You are right they learned to spell the R word, but as in Relocation not Relegation. To those day dreaming about "Relegation", put your money where your mouth is because telling others how to use and spend their invested money is easy, but I am sure the same people who scream relegation each time are stingy and count all your pennies. Understand that relegation is not something football is not ready for in the US....Unless football has the same following as College eggball, or as this American site calls it, College Football, then World football better not deal with relegation at this moment. Case Closed.

  4. Juanito Futbol, October 23, 2013 at 7:38 p.m.

    It is Arthur Blank, not "Stu" Blank. And I'm pretty sure he's the next new owner. I saw Don Garber hosting/entertaining Artie B at the US-Jamaica qualifier. Blank had his family with him and Garber was giving him the treatment. I'm pretty sure Donny G would have given a happy ending for the right expansion fee.

  5. Juanito Futbol, October 23, 2013 at 7:40 p.m.

    And for the love of God, please stop posting about relegation. Never. Gonna. Happen.

    That said, please pull the plug on Chivas USA

  6. jason bay, October 23, 2013 at 9:58 p.m.

    Ridge, youre wrong on just about every level in regards to Atlanta. The Falcons owner is Arthur Blank and Atlanta and the surrounding counties housing is among the fasting growing in the nation. List out your "other troubling factors" and I may be able to give you some local insight. Your info is 4-5 years old from when the entire country had a crash in housing sales and other troubling factors. I would love to see a MLS team in Atlanta and would be a season ticket holder. The city and Blank are very capable of bringing a team in and building a soccer specific venue. The problem is Atlanta is the worst sports town with the fairest weathered fans in the country. If the team doesnt win, and much of the time even when it does win, the fans dont support it. Atlanta is the only city to have lost 2 NHL teams and will hopefully never get the opportunity to lose one again. The Braves couldnt sell out playoff games when they won the division 15 years in a row, the Falcons get blacked out on TV in Atlanta and 1/2 the town doesn't even know the NBA Hawks are still here. Youth soccer is huge in Atlanta but the only chance Atlanta has to sustain an MLS team long term is if the Latino community consistently supports it. Atlanta will never be a Chicago, Seattle or Boston sports town because its population is highly transient. Put those other troubling factors in your editorial pipe and smoke it.

  7. Glenn Maddock, October 23, 2013 at 10:39 p.m.

    So many issues here. First any idiot that thinks Relegation will ever happen in the US, knows nothing about American sports business. Imagine the LA Lakers being sent to the minors after a bad season or the NY Yankees going down to AAA because they finished last. Who pays for their billion dollar stadium in AAA baseball?

    Orlando is a puzzle to me. Because they've had 1 good soccer crowd, all of a sudden they are a prime MLS market? based on what? They have no soccer history. Just because you have an ownership group and a stadium plan, doesn't mean you'll fill that stadium. Would a rich owner & stadium in Wyoming get a club? I think not.

    Atlanta is similar. Soccer has failed in the past, its a terrible sports town. They never sell out anything except SEC football. An owner & a stadium isn't enough. Ask Chivas USA which is very untenable, trust me.

  8. Footballer Forever, October 24, 2013 at 10:04 a.m.

    @ juanito futbol~ good catching that horror, not error, mistake made by this "soccer reporter". Maybe he should concentrate in getting his facts straight than to worry on his biased FC issues.

  9. Footballer Forever, November 1, 2013 at 4:32 p.m.

    It's too bad authors don't "mingle" with the people who even bother to post their thoughts/feeling about a certain topic which they started to begin with. SMH

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