USL To Orlando In 2011
United Soccer Leagues announced today they’ll put an expansion team in Orlando, Florida for the 2011 season. USL (then the USISL) last had a team in the Central Florida city in 1997, the first year of the merged A-League, but the Orlando SunDogs went 12-16 and averaged 1,514 fans per game in the cavernous Citrus Bowl.
NASLnews.com, which posted this anonymous editorial excoriating USL for letting Steve Donner (whose past is checkered, to say the least) be president of the new team, later posted a series of Tweets following up on the official news:
@naslnews: The USL/Orlando release boldly proclaims USL-1 will return next season. So much for the USSF calming the rhetoric.
Actually, the release says “United Soccer Leagues is planning to re-establish the USL First Division in 2011.”
Which, you’re right, is so much bolder than the statement on the bottom of every NASL press release. But, hey, NASLNews.com is an “Independent News Site Covering the North American Soccer League1.” Okay, sure. (BTW, that release didn’t go out without USSF seeing it, I’m told.)
But that’s a digression. Clearly what USL hopes to do is bolster its roster of teams (they’ve already bolstered their front office, clearly in response to the concerns raised by the teams that broke away and caused all this ruckus in the first place) in hopes of getting to eight and gaining USSF sanction for 2011.
I can’t agree with this guy (“Bleacher Report.” Hah.) who says that Orlando should have an MLS team (there’s a reason they don’t have anything but the Magic…I mean, they don’t even have a WNBA team anymore2). I don’t know where they’re going to play (the Citrus Bowl is way too big…even UCF’s football stadium is probably too big.) I can’t come up with a really good reason why this should be successful (or why you’d put a guy in charge about whom you’re going to have to constantly answer some pretty tough questions). (Yes, I got federal stimulus funds to buy more parentheses.)
Donner’s currently running the Orlando Titans indoor lacrosse team (which moved from New York and is currently averaging 7,985 fans a game in a league that averaged 10k a game last year). He says they’ll use the same staff for both teams:
“We looked at several different options, including indoor soccer and hockey, but in the end, professional outdoor soccer made the most sense in terms of being able to utilize our staff on a year-round basis without a lot of overlap in the seasons.”
That’s nice in theory, but few have been able to pull it off. My man Peter Wilt has written that it’s tough to always have your staff in “operations mode” year-round, rather than giving them an actual off-season for planning and sales.
So, no, I’m not optimistic right now. I grew up in Florida and I’m not one of those who has the “pro sports won’t work in Florida, Florida fans suck” mantra on macro. I think it’s more about the particular market, the product and the people running it. But right now, I’d have to be convinced that this has a good shot of working.
1 – Clearly it’s not. A soccer executive friend of mine has a theory that someone employed by the NASL is behind it, which may or may not be true.
2 – I’m still waiting for the Orlando Sharks to come back. I was assured they’d be coming back. Really.