Orlando City president answers key questions about Lions' MLS future [Orlando Sentinel]
(Orlando Sentinel (FL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 13--Orlando City S.C. took another step closer to a soccer specific stadium in downtown Orlando when the Orlando City Council unanimously approved a plan that would provide $20 million in tourist taxes for the stadium.
If the Orange County Commission approves the plan on Oct. 22, the club likely will bound for Major League Soccer.
This week, the Orlando Sentinel sat down with Orlando City president Phil Rawlins to discuss the future of the club, the steps it will take if it goes to MLS and his thoughts on the process of getting a stadium approved.
Question: If the Orange County vote goes your way what is the timeline for Orlando City Soccer and a move to MLS?
Answer: There's been a political path and the political negotiations, there's been an MLS path and MLS discussions and negotiations. They have both been running down parallel paths, and they really start to come together after the [vote on Oct. 22nd]. This stage it's really waiting to see that we've got the finance plan passed for the stadium. Once that's done, a successful outcome would mean we believe within 30 days, certainly by the end of November, we'd hope to have an MLS announcement in Orlando that we'll be joining Major League Soccer. Our plan is to play in 2015, so that gives about 16 months to get prepared. And first kick for MLS would be March of 2015.
Q. What will you have to build within the club to take Orlando City from USL to MLS levels?
A: It's something we've already prepared for. The club is organized very much along the lines of a small Major League [Soccer] club today. All the departments are already in place, it's not like we're creating whole new parts to the organization. What we will do is add skill sets, add people, add a depth of quality to what we already have here, the infrastructure, we'll grow that. So we'd go from approximately just over 20 employees to somewhere around 60 full-time employees. So 40-plus new jobs created across those departments. Where would they fall? In all sorts of areas, really. We'd bring people on in the marketing area, PR, broadcasting, because we'd have to look at a broadcast contract. Every game in MLS is on television either nationally or locally, so that's an area that we are going to grow. Ticket sales, we'll vastly grow our ticket sales staff. Right now we have about six ticket sales people, we'll grow that quite considerably. And then support staff around them, the operational staff, team operations, full-time trainers, we outsource that and we want to bring that in-house. There are elements like that where we'd grow all sorts of jobs, corporate sales that area would grow as well. Just about every department would see an increase.
Q: Would you be looking at changes in the technical staff, increasing scouting and coaches as well?
A: We would. Obviously Adrian [Heath] would stay in place as our head coach, but he would look to augment his team around him as well. At the moment, for example, we have a part-time goalkeepers coach. That would become a full-time position. Trainers we'd need full-time trainers, one to go on the road and one to stay at home and work on injured players in rehab and stuff like that. Many different opportunities to grow that staff. Director of scouting, technical director, someone to deal directly with MLS because it's a complex negotiation package around salaries and salary caps. All of that needs to be added. That whole team would get beefed up.
Q: Would there be roster changes as well to prepare this team for a jump to MLS?
A: From a team standpoint there are four real core pillars of how you build the team. Pillar No. 1 is your existing USL team. We would believe that a number of those players would make the transition with us. How many? That's down to Adrian and the performance of those players over the next 12 months, but a number of those players that we've got on the books today we'd expect to make the jump to Major League Soccer. They are capable of doing that, they are capable of playing at the next level. That's the core but you've got to supplement that because you're looking at a roster of 28 to 30 players.
The second pillar is the expansion draft, that takes place December of 2014 when the 2014 season is over and we can go in and select and handpick players from the existing MLS teams. That obviously means we've got to do a lot of scouting in 2014 because if we're going to go in and take a center back from Real Salt Lake we better know about what our options are. ... There's a lot of groundwork that goes into making sure that expansion draft is successful. The third pillar is the SuperDraft which of course happens right before kickoff in January of '15, a college draft very important. ... Assuming we come in '15 with New York then picks one and two will be Orlando and New York so we've got to get prepared for that stage.
And the fourth pillar is the rest of the world. The pool, the ocean of talent that you've got in all the countries around the world. And we'd expect to pull from that. Obviously a Designated Player we've talked about, but beyond the designated player the ability to know about the talent in Venezuela or Argentina or Uruguay or Spain or Finland or wherever it is we choose to go, Ghana or Senegal, to know what those players are about, to have insight into them to bring good young talent into the team.
Q: Will you maintain the brand as you have it now, Orlando City Soccer Club?
A: The name will stay the same. The logo, however, would change. Not dramatically, we're not going to go away from Lions and go to Giraffes or something, we'll still be the Lions, but the logo itself will change because that becomes a trademark, copyright of Major League Soccer. They take responsibility for that and take ownership of it. We'll take an opportunity to change it, but we'll still very much be Orlando City, we'll still very much be the Lions and purple, by the way, will very much be the color. We intend to own that certainly in the U.S. as well as around the world as a brand along with Fiorentina as a brand and color that stands out.
Q: Do you anticipate trying to fill out the roster enough to field a reserve team, or will you look for a partnership with another USL team?
A: This isn't decided yet, it's musings at this stage, but I think we would very much like to take advantage of the affiliate relationships that MLS has put into place with USL. So we'd look for example to potentially move this [USL] franchise to another marketplace and have an affiliate relationship with that market, with that team, just as we did with Sporting Kansas City this year.
Q: What are you hearing and what do you expect to come of the other potential franchises in Miami and Atlanta? Will there be a four- or five-team expansion in 2015?
A: I don't see it being a four-team expansion in 2015. I think the likelihood is it'll be us and New York in '15 and then three more expansion franchises to go before the end of the decade. Where they fall, in part your guess is as good as mine. I know Atlanta has made a lot of inroads and would certainly like to get a franchise. Miami, of course, with [David] Beckham is a very much a contender for a franchise. And because MLS has said there is going to be four franchises before the end of the decade, I think everybody else is throwing their hat in the ring as well. ... This is a very-sought after franchise so there are a lot of people that want to stake their claim for why they want an MLS club in the future.
Q: Is it important for the club to have a natural regional rival in the Southeast, or would you prefer to own this territory completely?
A: I think a regional rival always helps. We've seen that in the Pacific Northwest, the rivalry between the [Seattle] Sounders and [Portland] Timbers and [Vancouver] Whitecaps. It's great for the sport, it's great for the fans, it's great for the economy. Traveling fans and everything else. So we'd love to see a regional rival. Whether that's Miami or Atlanta, I'm completely open to. There is plenty of room in the Southeast for two teams, so we'd welcome that and I think the fans would welcome that, too, because it'd give them a regional rival to enjoy taking on and enjoy traveling to, as well.
Q: As you possibly go through this transition from USL to MLS in 2014, where do you play during the season with the Citrus Bowl under renovations?
A: That's still up in the air right now. We're a long way down the path with a couple locations, we hope to announce something by the end of the month. And it'll see us through '14, which will be a transition season because we'll be looking to 2015 and Major League Soccer coming to town.
Q: Has this process been more difficult than you anticipated?
A: I struggle to answer it because I don't think about difficulty, I think about doing. To me it's just about getting it done. We expect along the way you'll hit some road blocks and there'll be a few diversions. We've always been focused since Day 1 on the goal of bringing Major League Soccer here so it feels about what we thought it'd feel like. It feels like we've been through a journey. We've had a lot of support, tremendous amount of support. I think we've got some of the best fans in the country, certainly at the minor league level with the attendance we've had every week, 21,000 at the championship game. The fans have gone above and beyond in terms of proving they love the game, they love soccer, they love the Lions, they love what we're doing. We've got a great backing from them and that's been the nicest surprise of all of it. The amount of backing and quality of backing we've gotten from fans. The detours and turns and roadblocks along the way, you kind of expect that because you're trying something very major, you're trying to achieve something very major. ... But the fan support has been outstanding and the community support has been outstanding. People really want this to happen. We're making that happen and hopefully it'll be here for many, many decades to come. So it'll be something we leave behind as a legacy.
Q: How optimistic do you feel about the Orange County vote on Oct. 22?
A: I'm always optimistic. I think we've got a great case to make, and I think if you look at the economic impact, the benefits, the community benefits, it just makes all the sense in the world to me. So yes, I'm optimistic for that reason. ... I don't think it'll be as easy as the city was and as much support as we had there, but I do think we can get it done and we can get a Major League [Soccer] team announced in November.
(c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
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