Orlando City mark latest step in stadium project with seat installation

ORLANDO. Fla. – Flavio Augusto da Silva was just eight years old when he designed his first soccer stadium, playing barefoot on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. For the first time on Thursday, he got to sit in the stadium he has funded and look back at the incredible journey of Orlando City SC’s purpose-built new venue.

The team’s Brazilian majority owner admits he never seriously daydreamed about creating his own stadium while still a boy in one of Rio’s poorest areas. Back then, the stadium was “something we created in our imagination,” with stones for sidelines and flip-flops for goalposts. The possibilities of the self-made businessman were still several decades away.

But the occasion of Orlando dedicating the first seats in their new home was the perfect opportunity for da Silva to share his journey – and the team’s future.

“This is not my first stadium,” he insisted. “When you live in the poor areas of South America, you don’t have fields, or pitches, so you’ve got to have imagination. With that, I built my first stadium, so this is my second one.

“It wasn’t easy to take the decision to make it privately funded because it required a lot of courage and a bit of craziness. Today it is almost done, it is very beautiful, so my heart is full of joy. But our supporters made us confident to go through this process, so this is our way to give back to them, by giving them a home.”

Da Silva’s tribute to the fans – who have averaged more than 32,000 at Camping World Stadium through the first two years and generated a season-ticket wait list for a venue that will accommodate 25,500 – was echoed by MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who was also on hand for the installation ceremony.

“Without doubt, this is a watershed moment for our league in many different ways,” the Commissioner explained. “This team has over-delivered on all expectations in terms of its popularity and everything it is doing to grow the sport in this region.

“This is really a blueprint for the future in terms of what we hope to see with the new teams coming in. Any time we can have them downtown, especially with a fanbase that is so committed and engaged, it is exactly what we’d hoped for and looks like we will be delivering.”

Founding owner and president Phil Rawlins revealed that the construction process is now 80 percent complete and firmly on schedule to open for the start of the 2017 season.

“The seats going in makes the dream a reality at this stage,” he insisted. “This is really close to what I envisaged it would be. We have made a couple of minor adjustments along the way, but this is the picture I had in my mind from day one.”

Rawlins also intimated the stadium could, potentially, grow in the future if demand remains high.

“At the time we had to make our decisions, I felt we made all the right ones,” he said. “This will be a great home. It will be packed to the rafters every week and will be the loudest and most atmospheric stadium in the country, and we have a wait list of more than 1,500. Will we eventually take the decision to expand it? We will wait and see, but it’s likely we will.”

Project director Jason McFadden of sports construction specialists Barton Malow revealed the big question mark over the seating was getting a close match to the team’s purple colors, which are officially Pantone 267C.

“What’s happened here over the last year is awesome, but the seat installation is really the first major event for the fans,” McFadden explained. “They are going to sit in these 21,000 seats, which sit on these beautiful aluminum rails, and there are 6.2 miles of these rails.

“This purple seat has been a big challenge for us to make that perfect color. There is a first in this industry that we will be using an exotic ceramic pigment to get as close as possible to that Pantone color. All of the seats have also been manufactured here in the United States locally.”

With 21,000 seats, that means there will be a 4,500 capacity for the innovative Supporters Section standing area in the North Stand, which will house the team’s two main fan groups, The Ruckus and Iron Lion Firm, who come together on match days to form The Wall.

The standing area has been borrowed from recent design advances in European stadiums, notably in Germany, where fans can gather in rows in much the same way as they did in the 1950s and ‘60s, but now with more safety behind barriers.

McFadden also detailed the countdown process to completion over the next four months:

  • The huge video scoreboard will be fitted in the southeast corner in the next two weeks.
  • The all-grass sod will be laid in mid-December.
  • The extensive banners that will encase the exterior of the structure will start going up at the same time.
  • All City’s signage, with graphics by design firm Populous, will be installed no later than February 1.

With so much focus on the stadium, da Silva dropped one hint that there will be extensive team departures and arrivals to announce next week.

“In the next few weeks, we are very focused on next season,” he added. “Phil and his team are working very hard to rebuild the roster. We are going to hire new players and we have high expectations for next season in our new home. We are going to work very hard to bring better results for the club.”