We are not the capital of Florida but we are the capital of collaboration – Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer sits down exclusively with Orlando Green and Yellow magazine to discuss how Orlando City Soccer is on the door- step of becoming the next Orlando major league franchise.
Orlando City is close! As I write this article, Orlando City has just returned to the championship game of the USL with a chance to win a second league title in just three years. The Average attendance at Orlando City games dwarfs any of the other teams in the league. A recent agreement in principal with the Orlando Tourism development council has moved plans for a new soccer-specific stadium in Orlando closer to being completed. Finally, a wave of support for the growth of Orlando City into the MLS is being spearheaded by the leadership of Orlando…none other more so than Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.
Last week, Orlando Green and Yellow Magazine had an exclusive interview with Mayor Dyer to discuss Orlando City Soccer. We met at his office in City hall in downtown Orlando and explored all of the aspects of the impending move to the MLS, the impact on the local economy, and the future for Orlando as a whole with adding a second major league franchise.
OGY(SEANSLACK): Orlando city soccer is an amazing story…in three short years they have won a league title, a division title, and are advancing to the semifinals…being played tomorrow night. A report recently came out citing record attendance again at the games which are an absolute blast by the way. Can you put into words their amazing transition into Orlando and why you think this brand of soccer has caught on so fast?
BD (BUDDY DYER): Well, they (OCS) have been tremendously successful on and off the field. The ownership group has been fantastic…they have involved themselves in the local community and their marketing team is tremendous. And, there really is a demand for professional soccer here in Orlando. We are striving to reach major league status and I think it is going to happen.
OGY: A few weeks ago you and Orange County Mayor Theresa Jacobs were able to announce an agreement in principal between Orlando City and the Tourism development council to allocate tourism tax dollars to help fund the new stadium… A very exciting moment. However many Orlandoans do not fully understand how the tourism development taxes work…Can you explain where tourism development taxes will go and why this was such an important step?….and what are some of the next steps needed to get this deal done?
BD: That is a great question. Many years ago the tourism development council wanted to impose a tourism development tax on hotel rooms…current it is six cents on the dollar for any hotel room that is rented in orange county. And, that can only be used for certain things. the sixth cent, which was added on when we built the Amway center, can only be used for tourism advertising or construction of a facility that will house a major league sports franchise. The tourism development tax we will be using for the OC stadium will be used form the growth of the first five cents.
OGY: I have been involved in developing tourism business for the majority of my life here in Orlando ( marquis international / Slack’s tracks MCO) especially from South America…Brazil and Argentina in particular to companies like the Sports authority, hhgregg, luggage n more, Macys, etc… my friends here from discount 102.com work every day helping retailers develop F.I.T. business. I have seen first- hand the benefits of embracing tourism…Now that it appears Orlando will eventually have an MLS team here with a stadium as well, can you explain some of the benefits for tourism, economically, and culturally which will be gained here with this new venture?
BD: Well, Orlando is a very diverse community. Last year we welcomed over 57 million visitors to Central Florida…We are the most visited location in the world. and, we are about to marry the world’s leading sport to the world’s leading tourist destination. South America is very big for us. The top three international visitors as you know are Canada, U.K., and Brazil. and ( laughs) Brazilians spend a lot of money here. We think with the Brazilian ownership of Orlando City there will be a natural connection to the team and we could be the closest MLS franchise to the South American market and want to cultivate that.
OGY: That is interesting you brought up Mr. da Silva. I’m actually leaving for Brazil this Monday for another tourism trade convention and preparing for the next high season with tour operators and businesses there for my clients here. Brazilians are moving here in record numbers and the owner of Orlando City, Flavio Augusto da Silva, has mentioned he would like Orlando City to become the “second team” for Brazilian fans. How does that make you feel as that would be amazing?
BD: (excitedly) maybe Kaka signs with us! It would be great to get a Brazilian star to play here with the Orlando City Lions. We anticipate if we can get the deal done in the next month or so we will have a franchise by the end of the year and be playing in 2015.
OGY: Timing is everything….as you know…I remember playing football for UCF in the citrus bowl in 1994 when the world cup was held here. Now fast forward 20 years, the world cup will be in the backyard of one of our biggest tourism producers Brazil in 2014. Considering the environment for soccer in this country right now…USA is about to qualify for the world cup with huge television ratings….NBC just finished a deal carrying MLS games as well as many premier league games…and the MLS has recently announced wanting to add at least 4 teams by 2020….Can you describe how the exact timing of this move for Orlando City is really perfectly aligned for success considering the current soccer environment in the USA?
BD: That’s exactly right. MLS has currently 19 teams and they just awarded New York with a franchise which will be the 20th but there are no MLS franchises in the Southeastern United States. We are ripe, they (MLS) want to expand in the Southeast. The league itself has become widely successful and their model is to have smaller, urban stadiums 18-24,000 seats. Three teams have recently moved from minor league status and have achieved 100% sell through and Orlando City has had the highest attendance..In fact beating some of the MLS teams already. The other thing is, Soccer has become the second most popular sport in the United States among the under-24 age groups. And, Central Florida has such a diverse population…many being international and come from countries that really embrace soccer which will help as well. And Central Florida has the 2nd most youth participants in soccer in the United States.
OGY: You were recently in Cincinnati, Oh meeting to try and lure the Fraternal order of Police Biennial convention here to Orlando in 2017…competing with other cities like Nashville. How does adding a another major league sports team to the area help add to your arsenal so to speak when discussing the benefits of Orlando and how do you think it will help in the future?
BD: It does in a variety of ways. First, its quality of life for our residents by having more amenities and more offerings for them. Also, having a second major league sports franchise adds to the panache of your city and then it’s another offering when a tourist is making a decision on where to visit.
OGY: You are creating quite a legacy here in Orlando with many exciting changes happening within Orlando as a whole…and the sports community. UCF has added a new stadium and medical city and has joined a higher tiered conference..Go Knights tonight…. The Orlando magic has the incredible Amway center now….and soon Orlando City should have a new home under your watch….Is there a sense of accomplishment and pride associated with these magnificent changes for you and your team?
BD: I think for the city and the region we have learned to collaborate. We are not the capital of Florida but we are the capital of collaboration. We have had success by being able to collaborate government with the business community and so on. We’ve accomplished a lot because people are willing to put their views aside and work together.
As you can see, it is true leadership that understands the power of working together that is the driving force behind the rapid growth and impending expansion of Orlando City soccer. The unwavering sport from Mayor Dyer trickles down to the fans at the games who already bleed Purple and are looking to add Orlando to the national stage. We look forward to continue to watch these exciting developments and will be following up with Mayor Dyer as soon as word comes in.
We would like to thank the mayor again for his time as well as Multicultural affairs director Luis Martinez for arranging our time. You can view this interview in it’s entirety on you tube.