ORLANDO, Fla. -- Unveiling plans for a $155 million, 25,500-seat stadium in 2016, Orlando City SC revealed they aim to boast the most technologically advanced venue in MLS. The team laid it all out Friday at a special press conference to detail their new digs—which had been delayed by a switch to a privately financed deal, after problems arose with promised state funding.
Orlando president Phil Rawlins and majority owner Flavio Augusto da Silva highlighted the new features of the enhanced design.
First off, the capacity has been increased by 6,000 from the original planned 19,5000, thanks to the team’s higher-than-expected attendances over their first five months. They are averaging 31,000 per game in the Citrus Bowl, and the switch to private funding has allowed them to think bigger.
The 25,500 figure is the maximum they believe they can fit into the downtown site, which is just a few blocks from the city center, but season ticket sales—which are now open for 2016—have been increased to 18,000 from this year’s 14,000.
The stadium design is still based primarily on the original plans, but the south end will now become a fully covered section, and all four corners will be filled in to allow for the extra capacity. There will still be a 10,000-square-foot, open-air supporters' terrace, though, with dedicated standing room only.
Other features include enhanced premium amenities in the east stands, including the ability to order drinks and food to your seat by phone. The new design also features 31 suites (with a 90-person “super suite” and 59-person group suite), an 8,400-square-foot indoor club in the west stand, and a 360-degree concourse with additional concessions and fan amenities.
The club has also acquired the adjoining 12 acres to the east of the stadium for pre-game events, including tailgating, parties and sponsorship activities.
Rawlins explained they have looked to cherry-pick some of the best features of other venues throughout MLS, the US and Europe, including the new Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco.
“This will be high-tech to enhance the fan experience,” Rawlins said. “Sporting Kansas City has some great aspects to it, the Timbers stadium has some features we love, Houston has a great suite level and the technology at Levi’s Stadium is outstanding, and something we’d like to add here."
Rawlins was also quick to highlight the input of majority owner Da Silva, who is effectively under-writing much of the cost of the stadium personally. “This is about the leadership and commitment that Flavio has shown,” he said. “Without him, without his support and inspiration, we wouldn’t be here today. But this is also about fans. They have demonstrated a tremendous amount of passion, and this week’s award of being the most friendly and engaged fans in MLS is an amazing tribute to them and their inspiration to us."
Brazilian Da Silva admitted he had not expected to become the main stadium financier when he joined City in 2013, but he believes this is a win-win situation for him and the club.
“I am an entrepreneur, but I always had fun in my business ventures,” he said. “The number-one thing for me in any investment is to have fun. Of course we understand we are doing a business deal, but it is certainly a good investment and, with the fans here, it was easy to make this decision.”
Although ground infrastructure on the site has almost been completed, it will still take at least another 12 to 14 months before the Lions are ready to move in. That means they have to play much of next season, as well as this one, at the Citrus Bowl.
However, the team is hopeful the MLS All-Star Game will come to Orlando in either 2018 or 2019, while the new stadium will also be able to be configured for international rugby, lacrosse and concerts.
“Ideally, we will be able to play our first game in the stadium in September next year,” Rawlins said. “But, if not, hopefully we will be there for the playoffs, which would be quite a way to inaugurate a stadium.”
Naming rights for the venue have yet to be announced, but the Lions are already in negotiations with various groups, and an agreement could be ready within the next couple of months, according to Da Silva.
“I have been going to a lot of MLS stadiums and I think this will be one of the best,” he said. “We have much more freedom to go in the direction we want now, and I am very excited about the new venue we will be able to present for our fans.”