Orange County Commissioner Ted Edwards is asking why Atlanta’s Arthur Blank was awarded an MLS expansion franchise and playing in an NFL stadium, while Orlando was required to build a soccer stadium before it landed an MLS team.
“Evidently, the soccer-specific stadium requirement was apparently a false and inaccurate statement by MLS,” wrote Edwards in a memo. (His opposition to MLS soccer is documented: he voted against funding the new Orlando stadium.) His argument: Orlando City FC should be playing in the Citrus Bowl, with the taxpayers not putting up money for a new soccer stadium. With Orlando renovating the Citrus Bowl to the tune of $207 million, the facility should be able to host college football and MLS soccer.
But that’s not necessarily so, according to MLS and Orlando City officials. The difference between the Orlando and Atlanta bids, they say, rests on the fact that the $1.2-billion Atlanta NFL stadium is built to be reconfigurable for pro soccer with a retractable roof, and the Citrus Bowl is being rebuilt as a totally football venue with no roof and no shade. From the Orlando Sentinel:
MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche said Atlanta’s stadium will be built with soccer in mind. “Major League Soccer has repeatedly stated the importance of creating intimate fan experiences in our stadiums,” Courtemanche wrote in a statement. “With a soccer stadium capacity of 29,000 fans, Atlanta’s new $1.2 billion stadium fully achieves the League’s initiatives — similar to how Orlando City SC’s new $80 million downtown stadium accomplishes this goal.”
Orlando City Lions chief operating officer Brett Lashbrook agreed. “What is important to MLS is creating that soccer-specific experience and not having it lost with 20,000 fans in a 70,000-seat stadium,” Lashbrook said. “This is new technology that Atlanta has come up with at $1.2 billion that allows that experience.”
Now, Edwards may think something like shade is not necessary for an MLS team. But we’re talking Orlando in August, and there’s no way an MLS team makes it without shade and an intimate atmosphere. There will be a good point of comparison: Orlando City is playing at the Citrus Bowl in 2015 while a new stadium is constructed.