The Day The MLS Commissioner Came To O-Town

Filed under: Orlando City Soccer,Orlando Events |

It was a day that started out for many folks with a high expectation and ultimately it ended up with everyone connected to Orlando City realizing that there was still much work to do both on and off the field.

Commissioner Don Garber arrived on stage to a deafening roar at the Mojo Bar & Grill in Downtown Orlando at approximately 12.30pam, led by the Orlando City ownership team. Phil Rawlins, club President and owner, made a brief introduction before handing the reigns over to Garber and it wasn’t long before reality began to settle in that the club still has much work to do before it becomes an MLS team.

Many of the approximately 300 fans present will no doubt have been disappointed with some of what Garber had to say but ultimately he did make the promise that “Orlando is on the radar” and “it’s not if but when.” Encouraging signs indeed but it seems that the MLS dream is going to have to wait a little while longer.

Before the meeting Garber and Rawlins had met with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and all parties left feeling encouraged about the future before attention then switched to the fans Q&A  session. Many of the questions revolved around the stadium, the potential for the future and the here and now of what the clubs supporters need to do to ensure the dream actually happens.

The clubs stadium was one of the major talking points, even though it has previously hosted World Cup games, but it seems clear that the MLS want this issue to be resolved before they will make a final commitment. Finding a permanent home for the club, even though the Orlando Citrus Bowl is still a decent venue, is a top priority as it helps the club establish the all important revenue streams it will need.

Also on the list is the attendance and the commissioner made the point that he sees an average attendance of approximately 10,000 being an important factor. He did congratulate the club on a job well done in selling 3,500 season tickets in its first year but he clearly stated that more work needs to be done in this area. With the club averaging around 6,000 last season and already seeing growth of 60% in ticket sales, then that goal would seem a very realistic one within a relatively short time.

Garber also talked about the need to grow the sponsorship base and for fans to then support those sponsors as it is a cycle that ultimately helps everyone. It’s a point well taken as many small and large businesses have already invested money into the club and it is important the “feel good” factor is retained by all.

Our View

Nigel Worrall & Don Garber

Overall, it was an encouraging meeting and our takeaway was clearly that this commissioner isn’t getting carried away with the success the club had in year one. The club has momentum but Garber is clearly right to have something of a cautious outlook given he is in charge of developing the game of soccer (football) within the US. Given the past history of the MLS it would seem that this time round it is being built to last and no gambles or reckless decisions based on emotion are going to be taken.

The club needs to continue to build its fan base, to resolve the stadium situation and prove it has genuine business and soccer reasons to join the MLS. I do think the Commissioner is a little too New York focused in his desire to create competition for the Red Bulls but I was very pleased to hear he has no plans to cap the league at 20 clubs as had been feared in many quarters. Many of the top leagues around the globe have a maximum 20 clubs and that was a very real fear here. Ultimately, a 20 club top division may happen and we may yet see a promotion and relegation system come into the US game. It probably won’t be for at least a decade, more likely two, and then only once the underlying infrastructure in the lower leagues has been intensely improved.

The club continues to head in the right direction and one important step has been taken with the academy system the club set up in the close season. Garber was very clear in his desire to see the roots of soccer grow and he said that no team can join the MLS without an academy in place. City’s full soccer pyramid from U-5 teams up to the USL PRO level is now established so that’s one more piece in the jigsaw that has been completed.

Meanwhile, on the field, the commissioner has been impressed with the teams results to date as he candidly admitted that “today’s meeting wouldn’t have happened otherwise.” The players and coaching staff will know full well the challenge that lies ahead in this regard as they suffered some disappointing results in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic being held this week. The team put in some decent performances against two MLS sides, FC Dallas and Toronto FC, as well as Swedish Premier league outfit BK Hacken and they’ll certainly have learned a few things from those games.

Overall, the club is heading in the right direction. “It’s not if but when” Garber said before adding “we’re sold on the market.” In the future we may all remember the 1st March 2012 at Mojo’s Bar and Grill as being the day when the MLS finally said “YES” to Orlando.

More photos at

Here’s some video:

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