[Phil Rawins, Founder & President, Orlando City, Soccer]
A native of Stoke-on-Trent in the United Kingdom, Rawlins came to Orlando in 2010 to start the Orlando City Soccer team. Rawlins has spent 15 years in sports management following a successful career in marketing as the founder of On Target. Rawlins was formerly the owner and director of his hometown English Premier League team, Stoke City FC.
This year, Orlando City Soccer joins the major leagues. What does that mean for the team and for Orlando?
When we first announced the team back in 2010 we said very clearly our goal was to bring the major leagues here. We are delighted to have met that goal. It’s a great economic opportunity to have the second major league sports team here. [After the NBA's Orlando Magic.]
Tell us about the new $85-million stadium that's being built right now and the significance of its downtown location.
Next year we’ll return to the new Citrus Bowl. And during the course of ’15, we’ll be building the soccer stadium. It’s a fantastic location, a classic stadium with 20 thousand fans, club seats and 38 luxury suites. We worked very, very hard to ensure we have a downtown location in the urban core. We’ll have the game downtown every other weekend from March to November, surrounded by bars and restaurants. The president of the MLS said it’s the best stadium location in the country.
Soccer has been slower to take off in other U.S. cities compared to sports like football and baseball. What makes Orlando a
good market for soccer?
If you look at the demographics of the sport, our core audience is the millennials who are 18-35 years old. The average age of Orlando residents is 34. We’re right in the sweet spot. It’s very much a game they take in their hearts. They grew up playing it and are part of the soccer culture.
Do you expect the number of international visitors to impact the attendance of games?
Yeah, very much so. Our population is obviously fairly transient. A lot of people are exposed to the game of soccer before they moved here. Many of the visitors we attract here are coming from countries who love soccer. We’ll attract visiting tourists who want to maybe get away from the parks for a day, break up their trip and do a little something different while they're here.
You've already signed Brazilian super-star Kaká to the team. What is Orlando’s draw for recruiting other professional athletes?
It’s a big job because we have to recruit a whole roster, but we’ve had no shortage of players who want to come play for us.
What do you personally like about Orlando?
I think, for me, the great discovery of Orlando is the little neighborhoods, areas like Thornton Park, College Park, Winter Park, with shops, restaurants, unique places to hang out. My advice to visitors is to be out and be adventurous a little bit, get away from the parks and visit the little native areas that we have.
The new MLS stadium