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Orlando City suffer setback in pursuit of stadium, MLS franchise after funding bill not passed

NewOrlandoCityOwner (VinceMaduri)


From grabbing national headlines to acquiring the necessary land for a soccer-specific stadium without much struggle, things have been pretty rosy for Orlando City in their quest to earn an MLS franchise.

That is, until now.

Orlando City’s hopes of reaching MLS in the near future suffered a big blow on Friday as the Florida House of Representatives did not pass the bill that would have funded part of their proposed soccer-specific stadium. In fact, the House of Representatives did not even bring the bill up for a vote as it adjourned on Friday evening.

Shortly after, Orlando City president Phil Rawlins took to Twitter to explain part of the reason for that, saying that being tied into the Miami Dolphins’ request for tax-paid renovations to Sun Life Stadium proved costly.

The bill had initially been voted on and approved by the Florida Senate on Monday but was modified twice and subsequently approved each time to finally reach the House of Representatives on Friday.

As Friday concluded, though, there was no mention of the bill by House of Representatives Speaker Will Weatherford, who has already been accused of going back on his word by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. Ross told the Miami Herald that Weatherford had said he would bring the bill up for a vote before failing to do so.

It is unclear what exactly this setback means for Orlando’s hopes of reaching MLS. The USL PRO club – which had been aggressively campaigning for its fanbase to reach out to state government officials in an effort to push the passing of the bill and was planning on releasing stadium renderings in a few weeks’ time – has insisted it will continue to make a push for a major league franchise.

Friday’s turn of events, however, mean Orlando City will need to go back to the drawing board to figure out a way they can make up the money they were hoping to get from the state.


Surprised by this development? How do you think Orlando City will respond? Still think they get an MLS franchise in the near future?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Orlando isn’t a bad idea, but wonder how the Rat will feel about it. This club probably won’t be here by the start of next season, mainly because Sacramento is frothing at the mouth to get into MLS. They have all of the profit making configurations. First, a major rivalry with the nearby San Jose Earthquakes, and no more than a 1 hour and 45 minute flight to L.A., Denver, Seattle Portland, and Vancouver. Who’s Orlando’s nearby club? D.C. United, or the Dynamo? Right. 1.3 million in Sac-Town are ready, we here in Orlando are not.

  2. Danwolf, you sound like an embittered Austin Aztex fan! 🙂

    Seriously, where would Phil Rawlins go after Orlando? I doubt any other city would be any better prospect if he fails in Orlando.

    Phil Rawlins has lived or died by recruiting larger investors, though. Initially he said his UK investors were rich enough to take Orlando to MLS. Then all of a sudden there is this Brazilian investor who is said to be rich enough to take Orlando to MLS; did I miss something? Did the UK investors disappear? Or were they not rich enough for MLS after all? If this was explained somewhere I missed it.

    So what happens if the new Brazilian investor gets bored and moves on? Phil Rawlins has to keep all the balls he is juggling in the air at the same time. If he fails in Orlando I have a hard time believing he’ll convince investors that some other city is the next hot ticket to MLS. He’s got to make the Orlando to MLS thing work or he’s going to take a big hit in credibility.

    • There are still a lot of investors-public and private. I believe the original thought was the original investors could actually take the team to MLS. The additional Brazilian investment was brought on to help secure a new stadium and also as an additional financial security blanket to reach the MLS.

      There is no failing happening yet. Orlando City is well supported, they are making huge waves in youth development, the team is run well and they have the financial backing and acumen to make smart choices. The team is constantly in the community with a wide range of activities and the OCSC foundation actually supports the neighborhood the team plays in.

      Orlando City as an organization are pressing all the right buttons to make a successful bid. They should be seen as a model organization both as how to build a team from nothing (in a new city) and also how to ramp up to a higher level. I see it as a potent combination of Philadelphia, Houston, Portland, Kansas City and Montreal’s efforts and I feel fortunate to see it up close.

  3. So, I wonder where Phil Rawlins is going to move the team now. Knowing Rawlins he will move the team out of Orlando just like he did when the team was in Austin just because he didn’t get his way.

  4. this only makes south east expansion better and spicier, for example now tampa bay can jump in make serious moves and even miami can try to make moves with beckham. for now nyc2 wins the 20 spot but will it be cosmos or new york city fc

  5. It may have only been $1 million dollars a year but OCSC was simply requesting the same tax breaks that every other profesional team in the state already receives. If I’m a business owner trying to open a business (and one that will undoubtedly improve the community) and I can’t get what everyone else receives it would be a really tough pill to swallow.

  6. MLS still needs a team in Florida. so even if NYC gets the 20th team. expansion to 24 teams seems likely and realistic at least within the next decade. say

    Orlando, ST. Louis, Ottawa and either Atlanta or Charlotte

    • I’m going to have to start posting this every time somebody mentions Atlanta in a blog. The Atlanta Hawks are a playoff team every year and yet is 26th out of 30 teams in the NBA in Attendance, filling just 80% of their building. Every year their playoff games are on NBATV because even Atlantans (Atlananites?) won’t even watch them on TV. It’s embarrassing how little they support that team. You can’t even consider Atlanta for MLS until the Silverbacks are averaging 10K fans a game.

      2013 Attendance
      25 Pacers 41 626,069 15,269 84.1
      26 Hawks 41 620,146 15,125 80.8

      • It’s pretty simple. Atlanta doesn’t support its teams, therefore they shouldn’t get an MLS team until they can prove they support the Silverbacks.

        I’m pretty sure my case is stronger than “WHAAA WHAAAA WHAAAA, give us an MLS team we’ll support it we promise.” I’m pretty sure the burden of proof is on Atlanta.

      • Here’s more proof that Atlanta has work to do. They are basically where Orlando City was three years ago when they were the Aztex. in 2009 and 2010 the Aztex drew 2,974 and 3,733 fans respectively. After they moved to Orlando they averaged 5,265 and 6,606 fans in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Through three games in 2013 Orlando is averaging 8,360 fans.

        Meanwhile Atlanta was on hiatus in 2009 and 2010 and had 2,866 and 4,505 fans in 2011 and 2012 respectively. So basically they are the 2010 Austin Aztex right now.

      • I was actually feeling pretty good about the Silverbacks after they drew a crowd in their first game.

        “Atlanta, Ga. (April 13, 2013) – In their 2013 season opener, the Atlanta Silverbacks shut out the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, 2-0, Saturday night in front of 5,402 fans at Atlanta Silverbacks Park.”

        However, after a week they still haven’t posted their attendance from their second home game. Waiting to post the attendance for a game for longer than a week leads me to believe that first game was an opening day outlier. Why else would you omit a good attendance number?

      • Anyone who bases attendance on the Hawks is an idio+. Dont use the falcons, dont use UGA or GA Tech, or the Gwinnett Braves,or the gladiators nope,lets use the hawks a team run by the absolute worst management group other than the Maple Leaf Sporting Group. Also dont look up the history of the silverbacks and why the youth soccer community turn their backs on them. Dont actually look into the silverbacks marketing or fan outreach nope. Instead post baseless statistics that dont matter because Aurthur Blank isnt buying the silverbacks it will be a new team run by a man who has turned the Atlanta Falcons into a flagship team. But its ok you can keep talking about the piss poor hawks.

      • I like what you’re saying so far, but are you really sure that Arthur Blank gives a schit about having an MLS team? I feel like he will only push for an MLS team if the Silverbacks can convince him it’s a viable long-term money maker. That’s why the Silverbacks attendance numbers are important and them not posting the attendance from their game LAST Saturday isn’t a good look. I sincerely doubt Blank tries to get an MLS team unless the Silverbacks start to draw more than 10K fans at some point. I’m about 2% less skeptical about Atlanta now than I was before.

  7. so will they be called Orlando FC or FC Orlando or AC Orlando or Orlando City United?

    Love the purple uniforms

  8. The amount Orlando City was pursuing from the state wasn’t a huge amount of money-I believe $1 million per year. Nothing to sneeze at but may have helped secure other money from different sources. I have a hard time believing that its not more than a bump in the road. While it would have been a nice boost to have that money, the team’s efforts for a stadium and by proxy MLS shouldn’t be derailed.

    • Correct. The amount of money for OCSC is a tiny part of the budget. A fart in a hurricane. It seems the bill is victim of the political fallout from Marlins stadium debacle.

  9. Good job Florida. Seriously. Enough of wasting taxpayer money on stadiums. Let the owners pay for the stadiums, the governments are in debt enough already.

    • It’s hotel bed and sales tax we are talking about. Not income tax on grandma’s pension. That money is meant to be spent on projects that attract investment. The city of Orlando is trying to improve the quality of life in a very poor neighborhood. Sorry you don’t approve of that.

      • Then let the investors, thru the company they set up to purchase and operate the team, secure private financing and fund it themselves. Sorta like any other business that would move into an area, provide people jobs, and expand the tax base.

      • No stadium, no jobs. No jobs, no tax base. Right now that neighborhood is a jobless waste land. Nice to see how much you care about the folks in that neighborhood and the effort the city is making to improve their lives.

        I suppose you also disapprove of the public soccer fields OCSC Is building? After all, are not parks the responsibility of the government?

        Bottom line is the stadium is a public/private partnership taht will be good for all parties.

      • My point is, if any company (IBM, GE, et.) moves their facilities to Orlando, they aren’t going to get the government to part of fully build their facilities. The local community may gain from their presence, but will not give a public dime to building their HQ.

        Your example of a public park is not the same because it does not cost you anything to use the facilities, whereas if you wish to use the stadium, you’ll be expected to buy a ticket.

        And it is possible to want rich people who buy pro sports teams to pay their own way and not have hatred in your heart for poor people I have never met.

      • These companies typically get similar tax incentives to move HQ level facilities to a new city or state.

      • When Dell decided to build a factory in Winston-Salem a few years ago, they got $240M in state and local tax incentives. In exchange Dell agreed to hire 2000 workers. Only a few years later, Dell decided to shutter the factory.

        In general, I am opposed to the use of public funds for private enterprise, just like you. Stadia are a particularly bad deal, but I just wanted to point out States and Cities are pretty stupid even when it comes to attracting companies.

      • @timmytwoshoezzz

        For better or worse, businesses (including sports teams) have to play the game. If the game means trying to secure some public funds because everyone else does it that way, that’s what they have to try.

      • Not true. You’re correct that just ANY company won’t get Orlando area tax bennies or govt. support. But any business that will draw tourists or help Orlando be a destination city will be a serious candidate for tax benefits. I was part of a consulting team on a military museum for the Orlando area. They were a serious candidate for this money (even during a down economy). It’s viewed by local govt.s as revenue to spend on anything that makes the area more attractive to visit. A stadium that also holds concerts? Splashy events? Something that might also be attractive to foreign visitors (evidently the two biggest groups of non-US citizens to visit Orlando are from the UK and Brasil) is a plus. I’m not saying people will come solely to Orlando to see soccer. I’m saying that increasingly Orlando faces competition from other cities. People don’t just go to Orlando to see Disney–they want other “stuff”. Even if it’s just visiting fans, that’s more money for hotels and restaurants in the Orlando area–for most areas that may not mean a lot but Orlando’s economy is very much about restaurants and hotels so anything that brings in more visitors (even if just visiting away fans and the visiting team) is a plus as far as local business is concerned.

      • Actually they are going to get this type of deal. If IBM said they were going to open say a development center and add several 100 jobs. They are probably going to get assistance of the taxes, facilities and infrastructure like roads, water and sweage. And they aren’t talking about new taxes, they are talking about using existing taxes for these projects.

    • Orlando seeks to be a destination city. This is about sales tax revenue to go to items that might help make Orlando more of a destination. In the past, they’ve used or considering such money for things like: parks, infrastructure for amusement facilities, museums, and funding tourism bureaus. Additionally, b/c Orlando is very much about tourism, anything that potentially helps restaurants or hotels is a positive. Orlando is willing to spend money to draw in military reunions or foreign visitors. Professional sports (with a venue that could be used for concerts) are something that Orlando views as a big plus–as another draw for visitors (who increasingly don’t come just for Disney) and a way to boost hotel and restaurant income.

      Maybe for another city, govt spending money on stadium infrastructure (roads, etc.) is a bad idea. But in Orlando, it’s how their govt. works…helping to fund tourism and guest draws.

    • It seems like Orlando is going about this back-assward. In this day of civic fiscal frugality, it does take huevos to ask for tax money to fund a stadiums or sports facilities of any size.

      Stadiums and facilities have been funded through a variety of sources, but those which depend on public funding or financing are always the most risky. It’s tough enough to get entitlements from a city just to build a stadium in a particular place, but asking them to help fund it is in this day and age is really asking a lot.

      With all the millionaires and billionaires that inhabit Florida, the fact that they could not come up with anyone in the private sector with deep pockets to buy and fund a franchise speaks volumes about the viability of an Orlando franchise.

      This is not to say it cannot and should not be done, but the fact is that the risk taking is done by the public sector, and not the private, tell me that the MLS has not been sold as being low risk. I think it would be more opportunistic to have a public/private partnership, from the start, instead of the “if you build it they will come” strategy.

      • The Orlando City owners are funding a portion of the stadium. I think their share is currently at 1/3. The city and county are being asked to provide funds/land and the state was asked if they could contribute in the form of sales tax breaks commonly budgeted for (separately from day-to-day operations like police) and distributed to companies that fit a profile that attracts tourism and special events. That’s where the situation is currently. The bill that contained the money that benefits Orlando City (and other sports franchises in the state) wasn’t brought up for discussion. This wasn’t the “Orlando City viability bill” This bill is a small part of a larger strategy that shifts and is still in process. The amount in question was $1m per year as a tax break. The team will still need to finance the whole amount to get a stadium built. At this point, they cannot count on the million per year as an asset but that doesn’t mean the project is in jeopardy.

    • Sounds simple enough but there are huge benefits for the state to help with founding. From jobs, to new taxes collected, it would be well worth it.

    • The sky is not falling. But, we need to accept that the state of Florida is never going to subsidize another stadium…ever again. You can thank Jeffrey Loria for that.

      Having said that, the City of Orlando already bought the land for a soccer stadium. To become MLS team #21, the ownership group needs to think about a self-financed, boutique stadium with no bells and whistles. It’s difficult but achievable.

      For Miami to become MLS team #22, all that is required is for David Beckham and Stephen Ross to hand $10 million to Don Garber. Sun Life stadium could accommodate a soccer match tomorrow. It doesn’t need a $350 million renovation and a glass roof. That’s just what it needs to keep the Superbowl. We need to accept that there won’t be a Superbowl played in Florida for at least a generation. Again, you can thank Jeffrey Loria for that.


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