Get Ready Orlando THE TIME IS NOW! Orlando City Soccer is well on their way to becoming the first major league soccer squad in the Southeast. Don Garber, are you listening?
A couple of days ago I had the unique privilege to have an exclusive joint interview with Orlando City Soccer Flavio Augusto da Silva and co-owner and team president Phil Rawlins. Personally, I was blown away by how approachable and down-to- earth both gentlemen handled themselves at a brief meet and greet event ( About 50 members of the orlando community were on hand including commissioner Tony Ortiz and Luis Martinez who is the Multi Cultural affairs director for mayor Buddy Dyer) prior to my interview. When they first entered the room, they spent fifteen minutes greeting and shaking hands with each individual person. The men both took their time to apologize for being a few minutes late, introducing themselves, and thanking all of us in attendance. A genuine, heartfelt, and very Brazilian moment. Anyone who has ever done business with Brazil knows what I mean.
Augusto Da Silva and Rawlins immediately sat down and began to talk to us all as if we were sitting in a living room listening to our uncle tell a story. There was no pomp and circumstance or magical music or fancy charts. It was a simple “Here I am….I am honored to be working with everyone” moment. Augusto Da Silva had heard initial introductory discussions in Spanish and even attempted to placate the majority of the audience by speaking spanish…even though he speaks his native Portuguese and English just fine. We were all mesmerized by his words.
The purpose of the meet and greet was to let the Orlando public get to know Mr. Augusto Da Silva a little more and to understand the intentions of the dynamic team of Mr. Rawlins and Mr. Augusto Da Silva as it translates to Orlando becoming the first MLS squad in the southeast. Mr. Augusto Da Silva began by speaking about his past as a business owner in Brazil. He spoke about the cultural differences and how the United States is rapidly becoming a soccer power. One of his more interesting facts was that attendance at MLS games here in the United states dwarfs attendance at Brazilian league games… which was a surprise.
He also expressed his desire to continue to engage Orlando and Orange County government leaders. Although he said he was happy with their initial responses, it was clear he was ready for them to take action. “ We can not afford to wait any longer”, he said emphatically. “ Orlando must finalize the new stadium…get it done, then we go to the MLS. We currently lead the group ( Atlanta, Miami) that all want MLS franchises, but we must get this done in the next couple of months or it’s over.”
It is obvious that Orlando City is focused on themselves and not worried about potential bids from other cities. Mr. Rawlins was asked about his thoughts on David Beckham (Former England and la galaxy star) possibly joining an ownership group in Miami. Mr. Rawlins said, “ look, David Beckham is interested in joining an established, winning team. He has never been involved in a start-up. We ( Here at Orlando City) are interested in Building a winning team. That is the difference.”
One of the more interesting topics also was the influence of Brazilians in the Orlando community. Brazilians are the 5-time world champions and are well known for their fervent passion for futbol. Mr. Augusto Da Silva discussed how they plan to nurture the local expanding Brazilian base here as well as market to the millions of Brazilian tourists that travel to Orlando every year. He mentioned that “Orlando city has already spent $3.5 million in marketing the team inside of Brazil. Once we join the MLS, that number will grow to over $30 million.”
When the event was finished, I sat down with Mr. Augusto Da silva and Mr. Rawlins to expand on some details. SEAN: Thank you for your time this morning with Green and Yellow magazine. First, I would like to point out that I lived in Rio for a few years, and I actually have a tattoo with the Brazilian and American flag on my arm along with the flag of Flamengo FC.
FLAVIO: Laughs. “You have to show this to me. I want to see it.” Pointing at my arm. Mr. Augusto Da Silva being from rio is an avid Flamengo FC supporter.
SEAN: Although we had a little bit of a setback with the Florida house of representatives a few months ago ( Florida voted “NO” to use public funding for the new proposed stadium) you had mentioned a different course…a PLAN “B”. Can you talk about where we are at with the stadium and what kind for time frame we are on as far as joining the MLS?
PHIL RAWLINS: We did receive a setback in Tallahassee. We came back and looked at what are options are and feel we have a really viable, straight forward option in building the stadium in two phases. We could build a quality stadium today and then go back to the legislature to discuss the tax rebate in a year or two years from now to complete phase two of the stadium. We know this is a very achievable plan with the support of County and City Governments we can get that done.
FLAVIO: Yes, we decided not to wait. We could wait for another year and watch Miami ( or another team) get the bid which we do not want to do.
SEAN: It is interesting to note that one of things that drew you (Flavio Augusto Da Silva)here to Orlando City was the influx of Brazilian tourists here in Orlando. It is curious that one of the hold-ups in the discussions ( Locally) was the use of the tourism (hotel tax) considering ironically that Brazilians are the ones filling the hotel beds. We just landed a record 57 million passengers in Florida ( as reported by Visit Florida at POW-WOW. www.tia.org). 4 million of which are Brazilians coming to Florida and 2 million of them are Brazilian. As you know they spend more than any other demographic. In fact, my business Marquis International brings these Brazilian and Argentine tourists to American retailers like the Sports Authority where we have over 10,000 passengers for next month alone at one of our stores here in Orlando. That being said, can you talk about a part of your marketing initiative being that soccer is so popular in Brazil and will you be looking to work with tour operators and travel agencies there as part of your strategy to fill the stadium?
FLAVIO: We believe we are going to fill the stadium with local people, but we understand Brazil represents a great opportunity to market because Brazilians love Orlando and Soccer. So the opportunity to come to Orlando to watch a great soccer game in a new, modern, safe stadium is a great opportunity.
SEAN: In the USA, soccer is growing rapidly. The women’s and men’s side over the last 20 years has exploded. We are about to qualify for our 7th world cup in a row. I’m sure you both saw on television the other night the huge crowd in Seattle ( WCQ vs. Panama) and Tuesday in Salt lake City ( WCQ vc. Honduras). Don’t you feel it is important for people here ( In Orlando) to see that because you are only asking to build a 20,000 seat stadium? The rabid fans that come to see World Cup qualifiers, big international friendlies, etc..Don’t you think this momentum with the current Confederations cup, ESPN broadcasting all of the games and the new MLS contract with NBC…the timing is perfect…don’t you agree?
FLAVIO: It is for this reason we believe we are going to make this happen. We are going to count on the support from the county and the city.
SEAN: A couple of more questions. Right now there have been a lot of pro- tests in Brazil. Whether it be the politics, economics, or corruption, a lot is happening there. They ( The protesters) have expanded in different areas here in the USA. There was a protest in Miami, one is scheduled in Boston, and one is happening this Saturday near our friends at Camila’s Brazilian restaurant on International Drive ( Not organized by Camila’s) . These kind of protests, as they are trying to get things better in Brazil…Do you think this has any kind of negative Impact on what you are trying to do?
FLAVIO: I believe this is very important to express their frustration and express what they want. I believe we are living in Brazil in a historical moment. The young people in Brazil form 18-24 years old are making history and we are watching this. In Brazil we have no more than 5% unemployment rate which is pretty low. But it’s not about the economy. People have said “Enough.” They don’t want any more corruption. I believe when people express their feelings it’s good. not bad. Soccer is good and brings people together, but I don’t connect this at all to the protests.
SEAN: your history with Stoke City ( Phil Rawlins) in England and your history of being in Brazil ( Flavio) and around Flamengo really helps you. Can you talk about how your experiences in England and Brazil is guiding you through this ( MLS transition) since it is new to you both? Talk about the passion in both of those countries and how that will translate once we have our own team in MLS?
PHIL: I think you see the beginning of that, Sean in our stadium today. If you go to an Orlando city game today, you see the passion, commitment and excitement of the fans for the local team. It’s been there for three years and continues to build every year. We are up 19% to last year in terms of attendance averaging 8000 (fans) per game. It’s the highest attendance outside of major league soccer. So the passion and excitement are already here. What MLS will do is ignite that and take it to another level. We talked about a 200% increase ( In attendance) when you go from minor leagues to major leagues. To bring Orlando a second professional franchise is a huge opportunity. But, there is a timing issue, a window. If we miss that window and kick this down the road a year from now than we allow other cities to have a chance. I don’t want to be sitting here watching Miami play in the MLS on television.
SEAN: Tomorrow night Orlando City plays Brazilian league champions Fluminese ( FLU won the game 4-3). I am curious though…being that you ( Flavio) are a Flamengo fan..you own Orlando City…and Fluminese and Flamengo are rivals…who will you root for to win the game? And as a follow up, we expect a big crowd for the game. These types of friendlies bring in a lot of fans…Do you plan on adding more of these games and will there be a return trip for Orlando City to play in Rio?
FLAVIO: One of our goals with Orlando city in Brazil is that it will become the second team (Brazilian fans root for). We want to win the heart of the people of Brazil. and, these games (MLS games with Orlando city) are going to be broadcast live with one of the big channels in Brazil.
SEAN: Last question. Brazil right now is in the middle of the Confederations cup. I am sure you have heard the criticisms of the tea, saying they are not up to form during their performances in friendlies. My theory however has always been ( Since I have worked with Brazilians a long time) that the Brazilian team and Brazilians who do business… wait for “ the moment”, and then they step up. They live in the moment. The last two games in the Confederations cup they have won a combined 5-0 (And they just beat Italy as well 4-2). How do you feel they will do in this tournament and in the World Cup next year?
FLAVIO: have you been watching the games? have you seen the last two friendlies? have you seen the differ- ence?
SEAN: Yes, of course ( Im a huge Brazil fan…remember my tattoos). Yes, the flair is coming back. The customary overlapping attacking….Neymar is growing up right before our eyes and they are scoring. Regardless of the criticisms of their defense, offense IS the best defense.
FLAVIO: Brazil is always criticized especially during the world cup. Felipe Scolari, the head coach now, took the (2002 team) that almost didn’t qualify to the title. he is very good in a short period. i believe they will be champions.
SEAN: Well that should get rid of the bad memory of the Maracanazo ( The 1950 Brazil lost to Uruguay 1050 on their home soil 2-1)…And ( To Rawlins) the last time the Cup was in Brazil was no too good for England either as the USA beat England 1-0.
FLAVIO: I don’t think Uruguay will even qualify this time.
We all shared a laugh. An amazing, exciting day for me personally as I am one of the few born and raised here in Orlando, FL. I am confident after meeting Mr. Augusto Da Silva and Mr. Rawlins that Orlando City is in great hands. As a soccer fan, I can not wait to one day possibly watch a Kaka or other Brazilian star grace the field with our new stadium. Or watch the Men’s or Women’s national team play an international friendly or WCQ. And, watch our team battle the best of the MLS. The time is now. I was at the game last night when a record 11,127 rowdy fans came to watch fluminese play Orlando City. We have the fans…We have the team…We will get the stadium. We need the MLS. Don Garber, listen closely. The roar of the Orlando City Lions is growing louder by the day.