Soccer in Orlando: Will History Repeat Itself?

It’s a known business model. Owner wants new stadium to make more money and increase value of franchise (or to join the MLS). Owner threatens to move. Politicians save face by pretending they won’t offer millions of dollars in subsidies (enter Mayor Teresa Jacobs). Politicians eventually offer millions of dollars in subsidies and keep the team in the city (re-enter Mayor Jacobs). If there’s a justification for all this, it comes from the concept of some sort of “public good.” Repeat when team needs more money or upgrades.

So if the model doesn’t work as planned, will history repeat itself? Phil Rawlins, owner of the Orlando City soccer team, only became part of our community after he threatened Austin for a new stadium and moved when they rejected his bid. He picked up the team and moved to Orlando after only two seasons in Austin and he could leave Orlando if the team doesn’t get their way just as easily. Once here, he immediately began working with Gray Robinson lobbyists and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer on a stadium proposal.

My first question is, will the Orlando City Lions soccer team pledge to remain in Orlando if this deal does not go through or will they be moving if they don’t get a stadium? Wouldn’t sound like a true community partner if they will leave for not getting what they want. They have only played here for two years.

It is a valid question to ask as well. The beginning of the USL league in Orlando started with discussions about the Titans, a different team.  This effort was aiming to not only bring Orlando professional soccer but professional lacrosse too. The lacrosse team had similar “announced” attendance as the Orlando City soccer team currently has. News flash: both of these teams left Orlando. Steve Donner, former president of the Titans effort here, is now with the LA Blues soccer team.

It is worth mentioning how the Titans left town overnight without paying their bills or compensating ticket holders. Would the soccer team ever do such a thing? Entirely possible if things go south. Or if they don’t get their way, will they take our soccer team with them when they storm out of the sandbox?

And Major League Soccer has already failed in Florida twice before. Teams just disappeared in failure. Buddy Dyer can claim provisions in the negotiations to have “stiff penalties” if the team leaves the city early. But let’s not kid ourselves it won’t make a difference and those penalties may never be fully realized. I mean when Mayor Jacobs broke the law, she only had to pay a $500 fine. The teams will leave if it is a failing venture or if another city or investor writes a big enough check.

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