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Cover 05/08/2013

Orlando City Soccer's goal rush

The Brit, the Brazilian and their (not so?) crazy scheme to make Orlando soccer capital of the Southeast

Photo: Photo credit: Mark Thor/Orlando City Soccer, License: N/A

Photo credit: Mark Thor/Orlando City Soccer

Photo: Photo credit: Mark Thor/Orlando City Soccer, License: N/A

Photo credit: Mark Thor/Orlando City Soccer


While here, da Silva often drove his son, Brenno, now 13, to youth-league soccer tournaments and games. One of the boy’s coaches was Marcos Machado, a fellow Brazilian who happens to be Orlando City’s goalkeeping coach. It was Machado who introduced da Silva to Rawlins toward the end of 2012.

Rawlins had by this point spent a year looking for investors. Da Silva was looking for somewhere to invest. They hit it off.

It took only a couple months from that first meeting for them to sign a contract. Da Silva pledged $80 million in total. And once the MLS deal is done, probably sometime next year, da Silva and his Orlando City partners plan to start franchising soccer schools throughout Orlando, and eventually the United States.

 

Last year, as the MLS endeavor began in earnest, Rawlins commissioned a Dallas firm, CSL International, to conduct a study on the economic impact a new stadium would have on Orlando. That study – touted uncritically by both the Orlando Sentinel and Orlando Business Journal – claimed that the stadium would generate $1.2 billion for the region over the next 30 years.

In addition to Orlando City’s 20 MLS games a year, the stadium would also host seven additional soccer matches, five concerts and 15 “other events.” Each Orlando City match would attract 18,000 fans, double the current attendance, which the report deemed likely because the four teams that have jumped from the USL to MLS have seen, on average, a 325 percent growth in attendance.

“It’s the American sports psyche,” Rawlins says. “When you’re major league, you’ve arrived.”

Da Silva is even more confident. “I know when we are MLS we will sell more than 20,000 season tickets before the first game,” he said. “It is a mistake to think locally. I guarantee you half the people who visit Orlando [from Brazil] would be very happy to take their family [to an MLS game].”

The population of Barcelona, 1.6 million, is slightly less than that of greater Orlando, da Silva points out. Yet FC Barcelona is known the world over. He believes he could do the same here: “Barcelona is a global club. It’s a matter of marketing, a matter of branding.”

As the quality and notoriety of MLS play improve, American teams will attract better players. Da Silva and Rawlins have already promised to bring an unnamed Brazilian superstar – “a Beckham-like player,” Rawlins says – on board.

 

Mark Soskin has what he believes is as good an economic development idea as building a soccer stadium in downtown Orlando. It goes something like this: Dig a hole. Dump $100 million in it. Cover the hole. The end.

“You couldn’t do any worse,” he says.

An associate professor of economics at the University of Central Florida, Soskin has studied public subsidies of sports stadiums for years. He’s not a fan. “Let’s say we would look at every possible dollar the city could spend for economic development,” he says. “If you were to rank them, a soccer stadium would be pretty darn close to the bottom.”

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