On Sunday, Major League Soccer arrived back in Florida after a 14-year absence. Boy, did it come back with a bang.
62,510 fans crammed into the Citrus Bowl, as Orlando City SC drew 1-1 with fellow expansion side New York City FC to kick off their first-ever season in MLS.
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A sea of purple greeted Orlando’s captain Kaka and NYCFC’s skipper David Villa, as two of the league’s high-profile stars were welcomed to central Florida in stunning fashion after the #FillTheBowl campaign proved incredibly successful for Orlando’s first-ever home game.
The success OCSC President Phil Rawlins and his front office staff has had developing and turning Orlando into a soccer city following their domination of the third-tier should not be understated, but the big question is now: can Orlando sustain this level of support?
We have seen in many parts of the U.S. that fans will flock to soccer matches for preseason games involving European teams, U.S. national team friendlies and one-off MLS games at NFL stadiums. But in cities like Seattle, Portland and Kansas City, we have seen stadiums sold out consistently year-on-year as their MLS teams go from strength-to-strength.
Take a look at the average attendances from around the league this weekend, as an average of 25,838 turned up across the U.S. and Canada.
- LA Galaxy v Chicago Fire – 27,000
- DC United v Montreal Impact – 11,549
- Philadelphia Union v Colorado Rapids – 18,022
- Vancouver Whitecaps v Toronto FC – 21,000
- FC Dallas v San Jose Earthquakes – 15,236
- Houston Dynamo v Columbus Crew SC – 22,351
- Portland Timbers v Real Salt Lake – 21,144
- Orlando City SC v New York City FC – 62,510
- Sporting Kansas City v New York Red Bulls – 19,784
- Seattle Sounders v New England Revolution – 39,782
Orlando will play at the Citrus Bowl for the entirety of the 2015 MLS season and it is not unreasonable to believe they could attract an average crowd of over 30,000. If they do that, then demand for tickets in their brand new 19,500 capacity downtown stadium will go through the roof for 2016 and beyond. With only the NBA’s Orlando Magic as the other major league sports franchise in town, similarities can be drawn to Kansas City, Seattle and Portland who are each missing either one or multiple major league sports franchises. A gap in the market in each city has seen sports fans jump on the MLS bandwagon and it could happen once again in Orlando. Yet in the background in Florida, caution lurks as the memory of the defunct franchises of Tampa Bay Mutiny and the Miami Fusion serve as a warning. But times have changed and the professional soccer landscape in 2015 is a lot different than it was at the turn of the millennium when MLS when in its infancy.
Sunday was an incredible start to Orlando’s MLS adventure, but can their fans keep up their tremendous support and turn Florida into a true soccer hotbed? With Miami’s potential arrival in MLS, and Atlanta definitely turning up in 2017, not only Florida but the southeast promises to be at the forefront of soccer’s growth in the United States of America over the next decade.