Orlando City Soccer Club Owner and President
More than any player or coach, Phil Rawlins has been the face of the Orlando City Soccer Club, as well as being its most enthusiastic fan and promoter. As president and a co-owner of Orlando City, Rawlins coordinates all aspects of club management, both as a team and as a growing international brand. Originally from the United Kingdom, Rawlins built a highly successful and specialized IT sales and marketing firm that worked with some of the leading technology companies in the world. For over 20 years he has called the United States his home and is currently a U.S. citizen.
THE MOVE FROM THE IT BUSINESS TO THE BUSINESS OF SOCCER
Our company started in the UK, but we moved it to the U.S. around 1994; then right around the turn of the millennium, we sold the business. One of the first things I did after the sale was to return to my hometown to help the team (Stoke City Football Club), which had dropped from the upper echelons to the third tier. More than a lifelong dream or ambition, I just wanted to give something back and this was one way to accomplish that goal. Today, they are competing in the Premier Leagues playing the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea.
We began what is now Orlando City in Austin, Texas, but the marketplace wasn’t right to move to the next level. Major League Soccer (MLS) made it very clear that they wanted two teams in the southeast. We did extensive research, looking at several marketplaces and in 2010 made the decision to move to Orlando, with an MLS team as our goal.
THE KEY FACTORS THAT MADE ORLANDO THE BEST LOCATION
First of all was the age demographic of Central Florida and particularly Orlando, with an average age of 34. That is right in MLS’s wheelhouse. Then, we looked at the growth trends and how fast the economy was rebounding compared to other areas. The third factor was that there was only one other major league team in the metro area, the Orlando Magic, versus areas that have multiple major league franchises. Plus, this area is a hotbed of youth soccer, so there was a growing fan base that was being organically nurtured.
The final factor was the multinational and transient nature of the community. People are here from all over the world, who know and follow soccer. When you put all of that together you have the right market, at the right time. We believed we could build a great hometown crowd and be able to attract the growing number of international tourists, particularly South Americans and Europeans where soccer is a national passion.
THE COMMUNITY EMBRACING ORLANDO CITY
From the outset, we said we were looking for a public-private partnership. There was a major investment to be made by the team, but the community had a role to play and from the beginning we made it clear that was the path we had to go down. Orlando City’s success has been the work of the whole community and not just Orlando, but Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties and the tourism industry. We were able to make a very good business case that it would have a massive economic impact on the community. It would elevate the quality of life and be another major attractor, having an additional major league team, especially among the young creative class.
Also, we said all along that there was a time stamp associated with MLS; if the region doesn’t seize the opportunity quickly, others will. Again, we have been proven right in that respect as well, as Miami and Atlanta are becoming serious contenders and we didn’t want to be left out.