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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

Economists rarely agree on anything, he continues, but on this there is near unanimity: “Facilities of this sort have never paid anything [back to the community]. They’ve always been a net loss.”

Here’s why: Stadiums don’t bring in outside spending. They only displace money that would be spent elsewhere – you spend $15 for an Orlando City game rather than spending it on, say, a movie. That’s not adding to the local economy; it’s just moving money around.

This is not the case for all sporting events. NASCAR at Daytona, for example, pumps millions of dollars into the local economy, but that’s because it attracts people from all over. Even the Citrus Bowl renovation, which Soskin detests, has the merit of a handful of bowl games that draw visitors from elsewhere. He suspects that won’t be the case with the soccer stadium.

To make matters worse, while Orlando and Orange County taxpayers will largely finance the stadium, they won’t reap the benefits. Rather, they’ll be subsidizing their wealthier suburban neighbors. “Soccer is a high-income sport,” Soskin says. “Orlando is one of the very lowest-income metro areas in the country.” Forty-fifth out of 51, to be exact. Orlando would have the second-lowest median household income of all MLS cities, ahead of only Salt Lake City.

“There’s never been a major league franchise in Mexico or the Dominican Republic” – places where soccer is immensely popular – Soskin says. “Just because there’s interest, that doesn’t generate revenue.”

Economists as a rule are dubious of sports teams’ economic claims. As Victor Matheson, an economist at Holy Cross University, told The Atlantic last year, “Take whatever number the sports promoter says, take it and move the decimal one place to the left. Divide it by 10, and that’s a pretty good estimate of the actual economic impact.”

Rawlins bristled when I brought this up. “Those are not our numbers we put out, per se,” he responded, referring to the CSL report. “The economic impact study is an independent study. Those are their numbers, not our numbers.”

He makes a more convincing argument when he asks not to be lumped in with the city’s controversial billion-dollar trifecta of public works projects – the arena, Citrus Bowl and performing arts center – which were all in the works long before he came to town: “I didn’t tell anyone to build the Citrus Bowl or DPAC or anything else,” he says. He “worked feverishly” to convince MLS officials that the renovated Citrus Bowl would suffice – a cheaper option – to no avail. They told him he needed a “right-sized facility for the fans.”

And though Rawlins won’t say it – certainly not while he’s asking the city for money – his team has agreed to pay for about a third of the stadium’s cost, a considerably larger proportion than Magic owner Rich DeVos offered for the arena.


On April 24, Rawlins sent a note of panic through the Lions faithful. He posted an urgent plea on the team’s website, pressing fans to call their state representatives. As the legislative session careened to a close, a bill that would make a tax rebate to help fund the stadium was stalled in the House: “If legislation does not get passed this year it is likely MLS will choose to locate their expansion team in Atlanta or Nashville rather than in Orlando!”

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