By ATD’s Florida experts Susan & Simon Veness
Say “ football” in America and almost everyone will think you’re talking about American football. Say “soccer,” and it’s a whole different ball-game, literally! And, in 2015, Orlando will have a great new game to offer visitors.
To be fair, Orlando City Soccer Club has existed for four years already, but next year will see them taking things to a whole different level, when they will be up against the likes of Frank Lampard, Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane.
Instead of being part of the lower-tier USL Pro League, ‘The Lions’ will make the leap to Major League Soccer, America’s top-rank league and already home to Defoe (at FC Toronto), Keane (at Los Angeles Galaxy) and, in 2015, New York City, who will feature ex-Chelsea, Manchester City and England star Lampard.
More importantly, in an area already bulging with tourist attractions large and small – from the 47 square miles of Walt Disney World to the many small mini-golf options along International Drive – we now have another one to add to your list!
Because Orlando City very much want to be part of part of YOUR Florida experience, and they think they will be tailor-made for all footy-loving Brits heading this way in future.
From March to November, the MLS season will become a big part of the sporting landscape here in Central Florida and tickets are already on sale for a unique debut season in 2015. Unique, because the Lions’ inaugural campaign will be staged at the huge 65,000-seat Citrus Bowl in downtown Orlando, which is fresh from its $189million makeover and looks like a brand new stadium once more.
For 2016, they will move into their own, purpose-built 20,000-seat stadium just along from the Citrus Bowl, which has been designed by the same company that created the new Wembley Stadium.
Just last month, they staged a special ground-breaking ceremony for the new stadium, with thousands of fans turning up for the special ‘march’ from Church Street in downtown Orlando to take part in the ceremony, and this week saw them unveil their new jersey for the first MLS season.
That means there will be a LOT of focus on attracting tourists next year, as City see visiting Brits (and Brazilians – see below!) as ideal fans. In fact, they aim to make the club led by head coach Adrian Heath “everyone’s favourite second team.”
Simon is already excited at the thought of having his ‘own’ soccer team to support again right on our doorstep, while the fact the Lions make every game a major event – with that signature ‘march’ to each home fixture – should also appeal to visitors who’d like to sample some of the local sporting atmosphere, which tends to be very different from the typical UK version and much more fan-friendly.
The president of Orlando City is Phil Rawlins, a local businessman who hails from Stoke and was instrumental in creating the team and bringing in Heath from day one to oversee a great team as well as a great place to play.
Phil says: “We came here four years ago with the intent to bring Major League Soccer to Orlando and we have achieved that with the help of the local government, the community and everybody working together to make this happen, and it’s a great example of collaboration, which includes our tourism industry.
“This is the culmination of everyone working together. We have sold almost 9,000 season tickets and we will cap sales at 14,000 for those, so there will still be plenty available on a game-by-game basis. We want everyone to have an opportunity to see a game, whether they are life-long locals or just visiting for the week.”
The other big news for footy fans is that, along with New York City and Co, Orlando will also have its very own superstar. Brazilian ace Kaka – the World Footballer of the Year in 2007 and a United Nations ambassador – signed for Orlando from AC Milan in July, partly due to his connections to the club’s Brazilian majority owner Flavio Augusto da Silva, and he will be part of the line-up next March.
The 32-year-old World Cup winner is currently on loan to Sao Paolo back in Brazil, but has already shown he is keen to be part of the Orlando master-plan and is ready to help put the team on the soccer map from its very first game.
Kaka’s significance as their first major signing can’t be underestimated. He is still THE biggest name in sport in Brazil and has already caused a HUGE influx of Brazilian followers on City’s Facebook pages! They have sold thousands of their distinctive purple shirts in Rio and Sao Paolo and many of the thousands of Brazilian tourists who head to Orlando in the summer are likely to be at games, too.
This means a wonderful mix of British tradition and South American fervour at the games, but still with all the family-friendly elements you’d expect. There is even more to admire about their new stadium plans, too, but we will tell you more about those next year as it begins to take shape.
City held a major event for the ground-breaking of their new stadium last month, attended by thousands of fans, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear of at least one more major signing before next season starts.
It all adds up to a great opportunity to sample another side of the Orlando experience in 2015 and you can be sure we will be going along for a few games, as the Citrus Bowl is likely to be rockin’ in its first year.
It all goes to show – purple is definitely the new black!
PS: Orlando City played host to one of the events of BritWeek this week, a special programme celebrating Anglo-American business ventures in Orlando. In the course of the week, we visited Aston Martin Orlando for a special launch party, Lake Nona Medical City (which is just south of the city and a truly high-tech development of hospitals and medical research centres), I-Drive 360 (with the new Orlando Eye at its centre – stand by for a full report in next week’s blog!), and the entertainment-focused Full Sail University.
We were among the organising committee for BritWeek and found it quite an eye-opening (if slightly exhausting!) event, with lots of business involvement that was new to us. It all culminated in the spectacular British Bonfire Night in Kissimmee, so be sure to check out ATD’s Forums for a few photos of this unique evening. Or just come on and share YOUR Orlando experiences.