That’s not to say that major team sports aren’t important.
Home to nine major professional league teams already, the state will add a 10th in 2015 when an Orlando franchise joins Major League Soccer. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has made upgrading Orlando’s sports and entertainment venues a cornerstone of his administration’s economic development plans (initiatives include building the Amway Center and a new performing arts center as well as renovation of the Citrus Bowl Stadium) and he sees the soccer stadium as one of the key pieces of his program.
“Soon, we’re going to have a completely renovated Citrus Bowl,” Dyer says. “Five blocks from there will be the soccer stadium. It’s another two blocks from there to the Amway Center and three more blocks to the performing arts center. On top of that, you have the Magic [Orlando’s National Basketball Association team] building a new entertainment center.
“Soccer is another piece of Orlando becoming the best place for sports and entertainment in America.”
Though soccer has captured the recent headlines and the $480 million Amway Center has been hailed as one of the NBA’s best new venues, Dyer becomes particularly animated when talking about the $205 million renovation of the Citrus Bowl.
“We have reconstructed it from the ground up. We’re going to have a first-terrace, additional luxury boxes and the ability to add 4,000 temporary seats (increasing maximum capacity to 65,000),” he said.
Does that mean the Citrus Bowl would consider bidding on the new college football national championship playoff the next time the contract comes up for bid? Orlando was not one of the six sites chosen as part of the semifinal rotation for the initial contract, despite the significant prestige enjoyed by the Capital One Bowl, played every Jan. 1 at the Citrus Bowl stadium.
Dyer says Orlando likely will continue to pass on being part of that rotation. He said the Capital One Bowl, which pits the runners-up of the Big 10 and Southeastern conferences, and the Russell Athletic Bowl, which beginning next year matches teams from the Big 12 and Atlantic Coast conferences, are more than attractive enough for Orlando. Besides, he said, the new national championship structure might force Orlando to drop one of the existing games.
“Right now, we have a tie-in with four of the five major conferences,” Dyer says. “We looked at the possible games we might get [in the semifinal rotation] and, frankly, some of them did not have the same sex appeal.”
Dyer said Florida Citrus Sports and the city instead will look more at neutral site football games, like a conference championship game.
“When the ACC Championship Game comes back up (for a new contract), we will take a look at that.” The game previously has been played in Tampa and Jacksonville.
Other targets are regular season neutral-site games. Notre Dame and Florida State have played such games there in the past, and Dyer believes renovation of the 77-year-old stadium has cleared the way for the venue to start attracting more games in the future. Additionally, the Amway Center is set to host second- and third-round NCAA men’s basketball tournament games in March, and Dyer believes it will remain a desirable arena for the NCAA to play future tournament games in all rounds except the Final Four (the NCAA now plays its marquee event only in domed football stadiums that can be converted to basketball).