On U.S. Soccer and the City Beautiful
I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with my family for the first time in June and it was an eye-opening experience. Not simply because we had a chance to witness history as the best players in the world put on one of the most entertaining and exciting tournaments in recent times. It was more so because of the global response to the World Cup and to U.S. Soccer, and the immense passion it evoked in Orlando.
As we watched the U.S. Men’s National Team, there was an overwhelming response from fans about the vast improvement in the U.S. game. In addition, U.S. fan support, both in Brazil – Americans outnumbered any other country for World Cup tickets – and back home, was staggering, sending a clear signal to the world that American soccer’s time has come. I believe this staunch support is the product of the MLS’ success and growth into a viable and competitive league.
The MLS ranked 8th in the world, sending 29 players to represent their respective countries in the tournament. I expect that given the league’s current trajectory, those numbers will grow, elevating the MLS into the top five.
Fan response in the U.S. was astounding, especially in the City Beautiful. Overall, television ratings shattered prior records, and that didn’t include the millions of fans who gathered in public viewing parties nationwide. Orlando was the sixth highest market for total World Cup viewership, equaling Miami and ahead of other major markets like Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, Atlanta, Houston and Boston – all cities with an established or future MLS team. Even more impressive, Orlando ranked fourth in viewership for the championship match between Argentina and Germany, ahead of Miami and New York!
As I mentioned, ratings didn’t include the people who packed the bars downtown during the course of the tournament. Over 30,000 fans – many of you – attended our watch parties on Wall Street and we thank our wonderful partners at Wall Street Plaza for hosting these amazing events. Hundreds also came out to OIA and well over 11,000 welcomed Kaká on a Tuesday afternoon during the Belgium vs. USA match, the day we announced the Brazilian superstar as the first Designated Player for Orlando City.
Between the incredible viewership numbers and the impassioned fans who attended our watch parties and our matches this summer, there is no denying that Orlando clearly is the “Soccer Capital of the South.” And the best is yet to come!
During our time in Brazil, my wife Kay and I made sure we properly represented Orlando City, proudly wearing our jerseys and scarves to every match and event we attended. After the July 2 announcement, people would point to us and smile, give the thumbs up and say, “Kaká! Kaká!” Our brand and our city gained immediate international recognition.
At the championship game, a few Brazilian fans seated several rows ahead of us noticed our jerseys during the halftime break and smiled, yelling “Kaká!” We made our way to them after the match. Kay pulled an Orlando City scarf from her bag and handed it to them. We laughed for awhile, took some pictures and just enjoyed a magical moment there at the end of a fantastic World Cup, sharing camaraderie with fellow soccer fans and celebrating the wonderful game we love.
That passion, which is felt by all fans of this beautiful game, is what has driven our club to defy expectations and brought us to the reality we now face – our debut as the 21st team in Major League Soccer in 2015, a new downtown soccer stadium to host our home opener in 2016, and much more world-class soccer to be played in the City Beautiful.
We are forever grateful to the wonderful partners and friends we have made along this incredible journey, and look forward to continuing our efforts to give back to the community that has welcomed our club and embraced our sport so completely. We’re looking forward to 2015 with great anticipation, but also in relentless pursuit. Now more than ever we want to continue to deliver on our promises to our community, to our fans, to our partners and to our players and staff.
Thank you for your continued support of Orlando City and we will see you on the pitch in 2015. Go Lions!
About the Author
Phil Rawlins is the club owner and president of Orlando City Soccer, OrlandoCitySC.com