Whether It’s Beckham or the NASL’s Miami FC, Orlando City Doesn’t Need a Rival in Miami



On Wednesday, the North American Soccer League made the announcement that Miami FC would begin play in the league in 2016. With this development, the question becomes how this will affect David Beckham’s attempt to land a Major League Soccer team in the same city. Despite the fact that MLS has been trying to land a team in Miami partly to rival Orlando City, the Lions don’t need a nearby rival to be successful.

February 5, 2014 MLS commissioner Don Garber, David Beckham, and a host of others took to a makeshift stage at Pérez Art Museum to announce that Beckham was exercising his option to purchase the rights to an expansion franchise in MLS. It was part of his contract he signed with the league in 2007 when he joined the LA Galaxy.

A stipulation of the team was that they were to have a soccer-specific stadium built in downtown Miami. But nearly 16 months following the announcement, little progress has been made other than eliminating several locations.

With so little progress being made, frustration must be setting in with many fans waiting for that long-awaited MLS franchise. So it wouldn't be a surprise to see those fans begin supporting this new NASL outfit.

But if Miami FC becomes Miami's primary professional soccer team and MLS never arrives, how does that affect Orlando? The answer is it doesn't.

MLS has made rivalries an important part of the league’s business strategy over the past few years. Rivalries such as Seattle-Portland, LA-San Jose, and Red Bulls-D.C. United have proven fruitful for the league, and they’ve been attempting to create those rivalries for every team.

As for the league’s 2015 expansion sides, New York City FC already had a built-in rival with the New York Red Bulls but Orlando lacked one. The league’s thought process was that each team needed a rival to be successful, which is where Miami came into play. But as it turns out, that theory doesn’t apply for Orlando’s team.

Orlando City built itself through a grassroots effort. Rather than jumping into the top division and needing 20,000 fans each game right away to be considered a success, the Lions built a following in the third division USL. Over the four years spent in that league, the team built a loyal following which would only grow upon entrance into MLS.

It's a lesson that even Orlando City had to learn. Upon entrance into MLS, the club ran their #builtnotbought campaign in an attempt to manufacture a rivalry with their fellow expansion franchise. But this season has proven that the Lions never needed to manufacture a rival to be a success.

So far this season Orlando City has averaged 37,446 fans a game. Excluding the 62,510 attended opening match, the club has still averaged 32, 433 fans a game. Even more telling is the club's presence outside of attendance. Orlando City magnets have become one of Central Florida's hottest items and stores are unable to keep the team's jerseys in stock for any extended period of time.

The club’s local popularity has gained national attention. During Sunday’s match against the LA Galaxy, ESPN2 color commentator Taylor Twellman stated “You know you’re in a soccer town when you go out to eat and the waiter is upset with something you’ve said.” While speaking generally, Twellman was specifically referring to his visits to Orlando.

All of this has been done without a team anywhere near Orlando. The nearest MLS team to Orlando is in Washington, DC over 800 miles away. The fact that Orlando City has been such a success without any rivals is proof that MLS' theory that each team needs a rival to be successful doesn't apply to the Lions.

When Miami FC kicks off in 2016, it could be the death knell for a MLS team in the city. It could also mean that Orlando City would not see a team closer than Atlanta, where an as of yet unnamed club will begin play in 2017. But while the MLS executives in New York think that each team needs a local rival to be successful, Orlando City has proven that false.


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